The War Comes Home: A Book Review of ‘The Management of Savagery’

jihadjohnmccain

In the aftermath of the First World War there was a famous example of ‘the war coming home’ in the German Freikorps, which largely fought as anti-Bolshevik forces in the power vacuum of Eastern Europe before returning home and disproportionately joining far right movements that would be eventually subsumed under the Nazi Party. The famous and impressive Czech Legion which found itself stranded and forced to cross the length of civil war Russia to escape the other end in coastal Siberia experienced a similar phenomenon. Perhaps most analogous to modern day audiences, and the one with by far the most soldiers deployed abroad was the Japanese Army in Eastern Siberia. They were those who played the largest role in the Siberian Intervention and arguably did the most to secure the deliverance of the Czech Legion.

Japanese troops were kept fighting a low level guerrilla war of occupation in Siberia past the end of the rest of the intervening powers in that war. Although their presence succeeded in extracting oil and gas concessions in the region before departure, it was a failure in its main (if unstated) goal of making Primorye partially detached from the nascent USSR and open to business with Japan (see ‘Japan’s Siberia Intervention‘). A long and expensive intervention soured the public and domestic pressures brought the troops home. Some troops would terrify the home country with the influences they had picked up from the reds. Many others of those troops, specifically the officers, would go on to influence the growing cadre of right wing radicals in the army, a faction that would one day go rogue in the seizure of Manchuria and then go on to usurp the government, setting the Japanese Empire on an inexorable path towards self-immolation in World War II.

Max Blumenthal’s new book: ‘The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump’ is far more contemporary, but is charting a very similar process to these events that happened almost a century ago. But this time there is only one seemingly unstoppable world power and a host of non-state actors.

I was fortunate enough to attend the book launch where I purchased my own copy and had it signed by the author. You may recognize his name, along with his colleague Ben Norton, as the co-hosts of the podcast ‘Moderate Rebels’, which is my personal favorite podcast which I have referenced a few times before. At that event, Blumenthal referred to the book (whose release had to be delayed and relocated due to complaints from a combination of Beltway lanyards and Syrian rebel backers) as ‘the most dangerous book in Washington.’ Its not hard to see why this could be so.

The book charts the rise of American-backed Jihadism, a process that really swung into full action with the Soviet War in Afghanistan and the golden opportunity for the CIA to inflict revenge for Vietnam on the arch-foe. Though most people in DC know of this story and the reverberations of it (Steve Coll’s quite good book Ghost Wars is a common staple around Washington) there seems to be a collective cultural and political denial that this still happens. Not only that, but that this process, only really briefly interrupted by the immediate post 9/11 rush to combat the Taliban (itself a partial creation of these policies, if unintentionally) also has domestic blowback similar to the kind once experienced by multiple nations in the interwar era.

9/11 was used by many of the more hawkish elements of the American defense establishment, as well as a crisis hungry media (I was overjoyed to see I am not the only person who remembers that the top news panic story of summer of 2001 was the false claim of a rise of shark attacks world wide-its referenced directly in the book) to roll out an ambitious neoconservative plan of reckless expansionism. This parade of wars, botched operations, and flagging public support soon after Iraq turned sour in turn led to the rise of various media grifters seeking to make a buck (or a public profile) off of the War on Terror. Both Islamists often recruiting from the west to fight in regime change wars coming home to commit terrorist attacks (The Manchester Bombing for instance) as well as radicalized far right racist terror of a more indigenous persuasion not only fed off of the blasted detritus of American policy failures abroad but also each other directly in the domestic field.

The events are recent and many of them I have written about here before. But Blumenthal weaves a convincing narrative about just how interconnected all of this is, and how the neoliberal/neoconservative center is the ultimate enabler of the extremism it claims to be the bulwark against (see my last post for more on what I call ‘Trident Theory’). Right wing grifters and Jihadists alike feed off of each other. ISIS recruitment documents prove they intentionally provoke this as a strategy. The smarter people on the far right must know more terrorist attacks by Islamists are good for them electorally. Perhaps Steve Bannon himself wants to secretly and indirectly ‘adopt a muj’.

Much of this is enabled by conscious decisions by foreign policy elites in various countries. The grotesque tableau of the humanitarian warrior who loves refugees so much they want to make more of them by leveling their country allied with the Bolton-hawks who are just in it for the fireworks and the forceable opening of new markets abroad. For the specifics of this tale of woe we have all lived through, knowingly or not, I cannot recommend ‘The Management of Savagery’ enough. Especially as Representative Ilhan Omar faces critiques both by the xenophobic right and the increasingly pro-neocon center and center-left and the media does it best to drown out the necessary issues driven candidacy of Tulsi Gabbard.

To bring this full circle I am reminded of the first college essay I ever wrote that I could be genuinely proud of. It was a comparative study of a historical and (then) contemporary event, presaging what I often do now. It was an essay for a history class on the Japanese Empire taught by the excellent Professor Roden of Rutgers University. I first cleared with him that I could add contemporary elements and he graciously accepted.

It was about the Japanese Empire’s fall to radicalization to an extremist elite that festered in the military and intelligence services. It spoke about the connections of the rhetoric of the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ as compared to what was then Bush’s Second Term and ‘Freedom Dividend’. It spoke of traumatic events leading to sea changes in public opinion (The Great Kanto Earthquake, 9/11), the lack of a unified or bold opposition, and debilitating wars that only expanded with time-all under the ideological impetus of a form of national exceptionalism.

I was an undergraduate then and aside from its core ideas it probably wasn’t very good by my current standards. If it still exists anywhere its on an old computer in storage or a lost thumb drive. But I will say this: despite all the insanity of politics in our present time one thing that is decidedly different from both the interwar period and the early to mid oughts is that there really is opposition to this stuff. Perhaps not yet unified, but it is there. The effects of these policies, after all, are undeniable and all around us. There is more dissent today. Maddening as the present can be I know I felt far more alienated from discourse in the Bush Jr years. In very real material terms Bush killed far more people pursuing the quixotic dreams of American Exceptionalism, expanded far more of the surveillance state, and had more of a media lock than Trump-so far- has. People never would have believed back then that a common Middle Eastern moniker for extremist Islamic sects was ‘American Islam’, or that the Iraq War’s greatest beneficiaries was Al Qaeda, who was given a second wind by the chaos there, but the amount of people willing to hear such uncomfortable truths is far higher now.

I had no nope then. I have the modicum of some now. Take from that what you will.

 

 

 

 

Let’s Rescue Nuance

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Frazetta painting of the climax of Robert E Howard’s ‘Black Colossus’ where the capable princess regent of Khoraja is saved from the clutches of the evil cult leader and wizard by Conan.

The old internet of niche interests and experimental news outreach has given way to a mob of braying basics all hoping for reinforcement of their pre-existing beliefs. The old media such as cable news strives for relevance by salacious fearmongering, as it has since the dawn of Fox News in the late 90s. Conspiracy theorists, scolding virtue signalers, racist movements, and religious fanatics flourish as never before. Meanwhile, the people whose failures have largely created these problems, the complacent defenders of the status quo, squeal for ‘nuance’ and a return of the experts to save them from the populist menace.

But as has often been remarked upon both by me and by others is that the great defenders of expertise are often rubes and faith based prognosticators themselves. In a kind of ‘trident theory’, the center, as much or perhaps even more than the far left and far right, has debased discourse and knowledge in order to prop up a faltering ideological project. They have done this by making a mockery of the term ‘nuance’ by equating it with assuming the present ruling classes and objectives are empirical, non-ideological, and fundamentally sensible. Meanwhile, growing wealth gaps increase global instability, the neoliberal order contracts along with the influence of its primary patron powers, and the planet cooks.

But none of this is to justify the shrieking palace of wokescold moralists and reflexive contrarians on the left or the pathology-driven zenophobic revanchism of the right. No movement of any stripe can possibly provide workable solutions if it rejects nuance. It is therefore imperative to rescue nuance and expertise from its hostage takers in the center as well as its detractors on the various wings. An intellectual campaign against The Trident of Ignorance is necessary.

Even only focusing on the main theme of this blog, that of foreign policy, we see a media climate where to be questioning of Democrats is to be pro-Putin, where to be against Trump is to be pro-Clinton, where a person is not allowed to be both against the Taliban’s return to power and against the United States permanently occupying Afghanistan. People on the left who (rightly) critique the mainstream of American foreign policy degenerate into lazy anti-Americanism and even pro-Russian narratives. People on the right (and increasingly, center) who castigate nations like Russia and China give a free pass towards western nations who engage in the same behavior. No one seems to get the realist position that in an anarchic international world there is no morality but only successful and unsuccessful strategy (my default position).

Liberals say they are pro-refugee but also often support the very policies that create refugees in the first place. Conservatives are against more refugees coming to their country but blame the people migrating rather than their own country’s actions. Centrists, the most heinous on this issue, seem to directly support both creating refugees abroad through sanctions and bombings, taking the migrants in, and then turning against them once the issue starts empowering the right. See Macron’s dismal present performance in France for what an alternate history Clinton administration would look like in America right now. Meeting people with non-nuanced views halfway neither holds off the worst or mitigates the sides, it exacerbates the problem for everyone. True nuance is to think outside The Trident of Ignorance for a workable but also comprehensive changes to overhaul failed policies. It has no time for tepid band aid solutions.

The nuanced thinkers of the left, such as Angela Nagle, Amber A’Lee Frost, and others are castigated for putting results and big picture issues above moralistic showmanship. It is heresy for leftists to make a case against blanket open borders despite very real structural concerns that could cause. The nuanced thinkers of the conservatives, Andrew Bacevich, John Gray, etc, are effectively exiled from their anti-intellectual dominated home bases and have gone rogue. People of all sides scream at those who dare to appear on ideologically non-adjacent media outlets as if getting ones message across to those of different persuasions was a bad thing and some kind of betrayal of purity. If a thoughtful writing of someone is posted the first reaction from a purist as criticism will almost never be substantive but rather this person is for/against [unrelated issue], as if not being part of an insular monoculture is an ideal to be strived for and gives one credibility. This is cult behavior. But when so much of discourse is held hostage by various cults how do you deprogram so many?

This anti-intellectual culture cries out to be corrected by experts. And not the tired neoliberal consensus experts who are so dangerously mired in out of date groupthink. One’s analysis of the war in the Ukraine needs to be neither pro or anti American, Russian, Ukranian, or whoever. To recognize one countries’ policy failures need not be assumed to be support of a rival nation. To be opposed to the puritanism of the Pence right does not make one a supporter of the Cancelkin left, nor the inverse of being opposed to wokescolds should mean sympathy with their psychological equivalents in the evangelical movement. And to be opposed to both does not mean that one is in the center, where all critical thought apparently goes to die in the Twenty First Century.

On issues of policy, just as in issues of day to day social interaction, ones world view should first come from a synthesis of case studies rather than trying to shoe horn everything into one grand universal theory. We all make decisions based on experience and inclination. We all can’t get along because invariably many people have divergent interests from each other. This seems obvious, but I think cultures in the Anglosphere, Scandinavia, and the Middle East particularly struggle with this. These are the regions which have been afflicted in (relatively) recent history with virulent religious reformist movements who elevated blind faith over reason and a nebulous concept of righteous salvation over civic duty. The political became performance and thus performance was the height of the political in the minds of the ignorant go-getters. The most dangerous people became not the entirely ignorant and apathetic, but those with just enough engagement with the world to pretend authority but who lacked the critical faculties for actual complexity of thought. From the Wahhabist movement and the Reformation on through the racial purity and social justice circles of today, much of discourse remains hijacked by what is in effect Alt-Protestants. If current trends continue I would not be surprised if it becomes increasingly difficult to have intelligent conversations with anyone in these parts of the world.

Nowhere is this attitude of complacent privilege more obvious than in ‘no platforming’ speakers you disagree with. I will uphold anyone’s right to protest those they do not like, but not their right to remove them from public speaking in the first place. The fact that so much of this occurs in universities is of no surprise. As the university has moved more and more to privatized cash-for-diploma neoliberal models, the only way for young people to assert their vanishing modicum of power is to be aggrieved consumers who, like a suburban mom in a retail store, ‘need to speak to the manager.’ This culture also dominates as a form of memetic brainrot in much of social media.

Perhaps in the age of mass information-and disinformation-Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the rise and fall of ruling elites also applied to intellectual discourse. The solution to a decadent and complacent dominant elite is not to abolish elites (and up with Twitter call out culture mobs), but rather replace them by ones with new vigor forged on the periphery away from the sapping group think of the core-but that are still able to not be so niche or exclusive as to prevent them from taking and influencing that core. In an age where technology ensures the mass democratization of discourse, its time for a new set of experts to assert themselves. These will be the people who truly understand nuance and the only ones who can rescue it from its currently moribund state. It becomes necessary for us to create a culture where more people who meet this criteria will thrive. I am increasingly certain this cannot happen under neoliberalism, and know that it certainly never will happen through the endless screeching of the Alt-Protestant mob that dominates discourse today.

The Ball Most Media Dropped

We called Russiagate being more dud than bombshell here on Geotrickster a while ago. But rather than take a victory lap as the issue was always peripheral to my interests, I just want to acknowledge the proper and professional skepticism shown by actual journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Mate, Matt Taibbi, and others. A small group who were all but barred from mainstream media outlets for sober critiques while the only Russiagate skeptics given airtime were Trump partisans and hacks who obviously had a vested interest in their arguments. We see the price for that exclusion now. But among such people defending Trump was never the point. It was wanting to remain focused on a variety of other issues that got swept under the rug by the spiraling spy thriller narrative spun by various grifters.

As it is, one would think Americans would be relieved to see no evidence of the subversion of their entire political system by a foreign power.

My concern both before and now are the stories given short shrift by many in the media because of this obsessive focus. Even leaving aside the intense irony that the most Russiagate invested Democrats are the ones that tend to be most offended by Ilhan Omar’s critique of Israel’s overwhelming and proven influence on the DC establishment, I feel like so many stories were short shifted or just plain lost in the noise.

Because of the foreign policy focus of this blog I will simply state the issues more relevant to that field, lest we be here all day. The Pentagon budget and accountability problems, which predate the 2016 election, are still largely unremarked upon as if we have decided en masse that this state of affairs is simply acceptable. Directly connected to that is of course the fact that the wars Obama expanded from Bush Jr have been further expanded even more by Trump. With little oversight into these policies of an endlessly growing military commitment to more and more peripheral conflicts where the national interest becomes yet more opaque. The biggest single coverage loss in the shadow of Russiagate, however, has clearly been Yemen. The American media has both downplayed the devastation there as well as the American role in enabling it. The local complexities of the conflict, when mentioned, get boiled down to some trite and not entirely accurate narrative of simply being a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Multiple stories over the past 2 years have pointed out MSNBC in particular for this coverage gap, FAIR running one of the more recent ones.

I remember the first year of news before 9/11. It was the first year I ever really paid attention to news or politics. American news, lacking a real threat of a fear based enemy, decided to invent them while ignoring real world issues. Fear sells after all. We were fed a diet of then Congressman Gary Condit’s affair with a murdered intern, a supposed (but not really) ‘epidemic’ of shark attacks across the world, and discussions of the public morality of Brittany Spears performing with a live snake. Real things were, of course, still happening. Despite the then dominant mythology of ‘The End of History’, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first staring matches between major powers across the South China Sea, and the ever tempestuous India-Pakistan relationship, and so on, showed the world was still moving onwards. This complacency apparently was also shared by the government then, as they ignored warnings about Al Qaeda’s plots towards the United States. Until it was too late of course. Then policy elites and the legacy media they consumed alike were not thinking rationally and behaved in a purely reactive capacity. We see the results of that today.

Context is important, and so is a good quality standard of coverage of world issues. My main problem with Russiagate was not even its implicit xenophobia applied to its critics or its fuel for money making interests, but rather that in the future things will happen to take the public and possibly even policymakers by surprise for the simple fact that they stem from events that saw little to no coverage before they could no longer be ignored.

For much of the ‘Third World’ the Cold War was the Good Old Days

 

Nonaligned Meeting

When looking at the potential for future multi-polarity in world affairs it becomes important to consider what kind of multi-polarity is preferable and what is not. Surely, no one but the most diseased wiki-youtube edgelords of the alt right and neoreactionary movements pine for the days before World War II, where the entire planet was either exploited by rapacious colonial powers or had to live in fear from the periodic eruptions of late-comer powers with a world war or two in tow. But between the endless devastation of the first half of the Twentieth Century and the increasingly schizoid overreach of the dying post-9/11 neoliberal consensus, and the foul upswing in religious and ethnic identitarian non state actors it has unintentionally spawned, lies a far more instructive period of history to what our near future could learn from.

The Cold War, like any era, was a time filled with horrors of its own. It should never be the point of the serious historian or strategist to grow sentimental, idealistic, or above all become afflicted with that disease of critical thinking…nostalgia. But some time periods are simply more constructive for examples of this issue than others. Then, as now, the world lived under the threat of nuclear weapon armed powers. Now, perhaps as then, such enforced great power stability could give smaller and more independent countries the room to grow both diplomatically and developmentally. If they are up to the task anyway.

There were epic disasters in that time period, of course. The Khmer Rouge, the multiple attempts by outside powers to subjugate and divide Vietnam, the rule of Idi Amin in Uganda, Apartheid South Africa, Pakistan’s attempt to retain Bangladesh, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, and many more. But none of that outshines the vast achievements in human economic development made across the planet in this time-achievements that would slow or even reverse with the end of the Cold War and the triumph of neoliberalism. This is because the end of the Cold War also led to a diminishing in the power of small states diplomacy for the omnipresent dictatorship of a globalized market. We see the results of this now.

In countries like America and Britain we sigh at the decadent boomers who think with hard work and gumption you can get a college degree for the price of a used car and view hoarded wealth as a sacred entitlement. We rightly condemn that generation’s war on the postwar consensus of their actually hard working forefathers for the sake of tax breaks while gutting civil society and the planet itself with no regard for future generations This effect, however, is still restricted to the victory addled Anglosphere more than the rest of the world. While North America and the North Atlantic lived off the accumulated fat of times past, and even made some gains with it, other places actually did have to build from nothing. Many succeeded.

In much of the rest of the world the destruction of the final colonial powers (Japan, Britain, France) as well as the large scale stability of the situation between the United States and the USSR and the removal of the perennial German threat saw a massive wave of development guided by various modernist visions of a future for newly independent states. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to extract aid, technical advisers, and good deals from the major powers was increased by the fact that they were in a constant state of rivalry. Egypt under Nasser was particularly adept at using diplomacy to aid development and to grow living standards, but others would soon follow suit.

When the paranoia of the immediate post-Stalin Soviet Union and post-McCarthy United States started to peter away, more and more of the astute started to realize that this too was simply more of a great power competition than any ideological battle. In addition to the loosely affiliated nations of the so-called Non-Aligned League, it became more and more possible with time to seek a more fluid status in the international realm by rejecting the thinking of binaries. France, despite its pro-western tilt, made concerted efforts to reach out and develop connections with Eastern Bloc nations, while communist Yugoslavia maintained both NATO and the Warsaw Pact at equal distance-which in turn helped it extract better aid and trade deals from both as well as boost its international position with other independent states. Technological developments too were spread not just from the defense budgets of the competing powers (a la space exploration) but also in a desire to show off what they could do and how they could be of use to the Third World. Nowhere was this more apparent than the Green Revolution in agriculture whose spread was assisted by experts being encouraged to come to other nations. While both Washington and Moscow often tried to compete with technologies and aid in a way framed as a competition between capitalism and communism, the truth was they were using their technological advantages to buy influence and allies. And this was often a net boon for many newly independent countries. This was not a company hiring a few locals as it extracts raw materials for profit. This was genuine developmental assistance.

With the end of the Cold War, this favorable conjunction for national development would also end. While new opportunities would open up to a select few who had reached a level of development strong enough to take advantage of the changes that came in the late 80s and through the 90s (mostly, and perhaps tellingly, in already partially developed post Soviet countries such as Kazakhstan and Estonia), the majority of the Third World effectively lost its bargaining power. Even leaving aside that the collapse of living standards in much of the former USSR was the largest peacetime loss of human development in recorded history, the consequences for the Third World would often be quite dire as well.

Much aid dried up almost immediately. The US lacked a need to compete with anyone. Meanwhile, the type of economic exchange between the North Atlantic plus Japan and the rest of the world moved towards a more unchecked and predatory phase. Many developmental and technological advisers were replaced by voluntourists and vulture capitalists. While trade increased, development often slowed or stopped at the same time more and more resources were extracted. While the most extreme forms of poverty has continued to reduce since 1991, the majority of the people who experience that boon are in China, a country far less tied to neoliberalism than most others. Many other successes come from nations who had already set up a path to success before ’91. Meanwhile, the countries targeted for regime change such as Libya and Syria have seen an utter collapse of living standards in systems that once two were somewhat independent and working towards developmental success. To further this, the very pioneers of the present economic order are now facing rising poverty rates, especially in rural and post-industrial areas.

In a world were all gains are temporary but can at least be made somewhat long term in the right circumstances, it behooves us to think about what opportunities could be returning to developing countries as the Chinese economy reaches out to challenge America’s. For all the various dangerous multi-polarity can bring, there could be a bounty of opportunities for the independent nations of the world…ready to open a bidding war of experts and assistance between the great powers.

Its either that or give in to nostalgia as the only refuge.

 

Despite all the Agent Orange, the Jungle Grows Back

Fighting wildfires

The DPRK-USA summit in Vietnam is about to start. Given the generations that have passed since a frozen armistice was put in place and the decidedly erratic character of the American president I will withhold from speculating on how effective such talks will be. I do support having them, however. Everyone should. There is not a person on this Earth that would benefit, long term, from renewed hostilities on the Korean peninsula. Even the usually gleeful for conflict types in policy and business would suffer when China, now a nuclear armed nation came to the DPRK’s defense. Though we do not presently look like we are are staring down the barrel of such a confrontation, leaving the festering sore of nonexistent relations between Pyongyang and much of the rest of the world is of little benefit to anyone.

My concern here is that Pyongyang has an astute eye on Venezuela, and rightfully so. Saddam Hussein had no up to date weapons of mass destruction but for domestic reasons could not come out and say it. His lack of them hardly prevented the war that came his way. Qaddafi then saw an opportunity for his nation to be lifted from U.S. sanctions and in return give Bush a (minor) victory by renouncing such weapons. This failed to save him from an attack launched by the Obama administration under heavy pressure from Britain and France. This taught the world, and especially Syria, that it wasn’t worth giving up your WMD’s. In fact, it might be just what you need to make more powerful foes think twice. Everyone knows Israel, which once was subjected to endless conventional attack, has not been so attacked since it (unofficially) became a nuclear power. Everyone knows that North Korea’s bargaining position has been stronger since it became one. The intercontinental ballistic missile is the ultimate sovereignty guarantor.

Meanwhile, while this noteworthy and laudable attempt to normalize relations with North Korea goes forward, the US is attempting at the very same time to topple the government of Venezuela. This is extremely counter productive and will put Pyongyang on edge. Considering that all factions in Venezuela are unpopular, and that so far most of the army seems to be sticking with Caracas, it flirts with the risk of conflict or disruption that could set off another wave of migrants and conflict. Even if it does not, outside of private corporate interests who seek the Venezuelan economy opened to them, the average American stands no chance at benefiting from any major US-backed operation there…but will no doubt pick up the tab for it as always. Indeed, Maduro’s popularity is extremely low but not lower than Macron’s (who arguably treats opposition protesters worse), and opposition to US military intervention in that country is significantly higher than even the percentage of the people who want Maduro gone. If they want him gone, they will do it their way.

So far of candidates running for high office, only Tulsi Gabbard has raised a voice of opposition to our destabilizing actions in Venezuela, particularly at this sensitive time. The odds are high that if reaching a deal is more difficult than expected this would be the reason why.

This is just one issue among many that one could point to in order to make the counter-point to a growing Beltway-Lanyard narrative about America’s supposed withdrawal from the world. Robert Kagan, a well respected prognosticator despite a very long record of supporting failed policies, uses the phrase ‘the jungle grows back.’ We often see this narrative used increasingly by democrats and ‘never Trump’ conservatives to critique Trump from the neoconservative right. They are setting up a false binary where we must choose between pure isolationism and endless brushfire-war militarism. This is obviously false because there is quite simply no way the worlds largest economy could return to anything resembling prewar ‘isolationism’, much less give up its numerous diplomatic ties.

There is this assumption that undoing World War Two, the crucible of American world domination, lurks as a potential in every part of the world. But the Second World War was not normal, it was bizarre. Most of human history does not have quite so large conflicts in all out total war for global hegemony where the triumph of one side was so clearly preferable than to the other. The circumstances that made the prewar era do not exist any longer. And most tellingly, it would hardly be the United States to which much of the world would look to for deliverance at this point in time. This is because rather than intelligently shoring up its position once its last remaining true rival, the Soviet Union, fell in 1991, the United States has gone on not to uphold the stability to the post Cold War world but to endlessly undermine it. In so doing it has not only undermined its own position through over-expansion, but also made itself the most feared and least trusted nation on planet Earth. Trump’s bumbling obviously doesn’t help, but this problem dates back on some level to the over-expansion of NATO in the Clinton administration and especially from the unhinged Bush Jr. presidency. If the rest of the world doing its thing is the jungle, then we are Agent Orange. And the overreach of so much of our consensus foreign policy has made a lot of those jungle dwellers nostalgic for the days without chemically induced mutation.

In my time at the State Department I often found that the foreign service officers who had served in countries that struck an independent course of self sufficiency were often the ones more content with their ‘hardship’ (not fully developed nation) postings. Prewar Syria and Belarus were commonly lauded places to be. There is, perhaps, a reason why foreign service officers are restricted to two years per post abroad. You don’t want them getting any funny ideas about countries pursuing independent paths of development.

This needs to be kept in mind when doing big diplomatic negotiations like the one currently in Vietnam. A country that we dumped endless amounts of chemicals on, then left, and allowed the jungle to grow back. Now Vietnam is doing better than ever before in modern history *and* has positively warm relations with the United States. Diplomacy, its cheap and effective and our war to preserve the artificial construction of South Vietnam was for nothing. But in addition to hard power backing up diplomacy it also needs the soft power of knowing you are reliable and trustworthy.

Many in North Korea may be looking at Venezuela and wondering how many concessions it is worth giving the United States. It didn’t have to be this way, and it sure doesn’t in the future. There is a professional and political class in desperate need of replacing.

Beltway Ghouls Circle the Wagons

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On multiple prior occasions, some of which can be found in this blog, I have consistently made one prediction: that any attempt to question the ever expanding and increasing sclerotic U.S. militarism fostered upon the world would be the ultimate breaking point between those who recognize the desperate obsolescence of an insular and incestuous American foreign policy establishment, and those who would do anything to defend it. The past few days has proven my point to any who still somehow could have ever doubted it.

The new congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, found herself on the receiving end of numerous bipartisan attacks for daring to suggest that powerful lobbying groups, AIPAC specifically in her case, use money to wield disproportionate influence over the policy making process. In a world with the NRA, defense contractors, numerous astroturfed ‘tax policy’ groups, and Saudi cash to be found in almost every think tank in DC, this is hardly some out there allegation. Its simply fact. But likely because she is an anti-interventionist, and almost certainly because she is Muslim, an utterly hysteric reaction has consumed the establishment press demanding her contrition for peddling in ‘anti-semitism’. This was fueled by her retweeting Glen Greenwald, who himself is Jewish. The audacity of America’s gullible policy ‘wonk’ journalists and commentariat to the talking points of politicians never ceases to amaze me. This smearing continued today when Omar grilled Elliot Abrams on what his intentions towards Venezuela might be. Numerous denizens of the darkest caverns of mouthbreathing analysis sought to tie the two issues together by implying that any hostility to Abrams was also anti-semitism.

If you are familiar with this blog going back awhile you might gleam that while I might be opposed to intervention in Venezuela for a variety of reasons, Abram’s record isn’t one of them. I know ghouls because I *am* one, in a sense. The outsider ghoul. In the service of strategy or policy directives I supported I could take on all kinds of shady assignments for the sake of the art. Like those strategists of Warring States China or Renaissance Europe, there isn’t a single chauvinistic bone in my body towards foreign nations (unless its Saudi Arabia, of course) and I could, theoretically, offer my services from one group to another if we lived in such a context. I know that there will always be competing nations, and the art of grand strategy and diplomacy analysis is a cool job you can eke out knowing that and working with it. If someone presented me with an interesting project to undermine a country, or uphold one, I could do it making whatever broken eggs were necessary. I have never been anything but honest about this. I excoriate bad strategy, no matter who does it, and praise good strategy, no matter who does it. Hence why I am often impressed with how Iran, for example, plays a poor hand against a bumbling America. I would much rather live in America than theocratic Iran. But the Iranian foreign policy establishment of today is one I can *respect*. And I could still respect it were it my job to actively plot against them.

Abrams, however, shown by his indignant response to questioning, shows if he ever knew this he has clearly forgotten it. In the DC bubble, where careerists faun and flatter and boost each other into failing upwards regardless of skill, it might be an easy thing for one to do when they are complacent.

This brings me to what I really want to talk about which is related to the pure intensity and across-the-board ghoulery of this reaction to Omar’s comments. Because this howling chorus of lanyards, from the ever ignorant Max Boot types to the endlessly wokescolding ex Obama and Clinton staffers who always want to remind you to ‘believe women’ and ‘believe black women’ (unless they criticize AIPAC, the DNC, or the endless war state, of course) shows exactly the group think present in DC establishment institutions. This groupthink is not something I need to once again go over, but I need to specifically mention here is that it is not, despite what you may think, entirely cynical. Sure, some of it is. Party hacks on both sides of the isle have taken a cue from the Blairite melts in the UK who constantly smear Corbyn as anti-semetic for…well not being a huge fan of Israel. Leaving aside how they sloppily conflate an entire diasporic ethnicity with the governing elite of one country, this is a purely cynical move now taken up with relish by the Democratic establishment in particular who seek to prevent newer and younger elected officials questioning any of its canards. If such ridiculous call-outs continue to happen the fact is we will soon reach a point where to criticize wahhabiist terror or the Saudi monarchy will be conflated with anti-Arab racism…though I am sure some wokescold is already working on that thesis as I write this (its probably Shadi Hamid).

But not all of these howling bien pensants are so cynical. This is the core horror I can impart upon you, dear readers. After having lived in DC for over three years now I can say this with full confidence. Many of the people here, especially those in leadership positions of think tanks, nonprofits, and media organizations, but also low level people in government and business, actually believe their own bullshit. From American Exceptionalism to the magic of neoliberal markets, from ‘humanitarian intervention’ via the military to the view of America’s alliance networks as ‘values based’ to the cult of the billionaire entrepreneur…so very many of the people here actually believe this shit. Ever wondered how America could think going into Iraq with no post war plan and that few troops would work? Now you know. Libya? Moderate Rebels? And now the jaundiced gaze of the Beltway  ghoul turns to Venezuela.

That is the true horror. Horror to the strategist not indoctrinated into the cult. Horror to anyone who wants reform or substantive change. I’m both. As you can imagine, being here can often verge on a type of stark dread only to be found when Lovecraft dreamed of Yuggoth- where puffed shoggoths splash. These may not be all of the people that influence who governs, but it is far too many of them. And that is why they howl and hoot and holler in such rage and indignation when called into question, because you aren’t just disagreeing with them…you are blaspheming against their religion. The ghouls will circle the wagons when heresy from outside threatens their genteel discussions of insular theology.

But the problem with this faith is that we don’t have the luxury of waiting around for their elders to die off naturally or them to learn from the real world. The clock is ticking on the next insane war they are planning and the planet is warming and we simply no longer have the time when dealing with such people. We have only the shock of heresy to wield to remove and replace them.

 

 

 

The Universe of Repulsion

 

ravenstealssunboddhisatva

My own depiction of Pacific Northwest Raven as a Tibetan wrathful Bodhisattva, or perhaps anti-Bodhisattva. 

Concurrent with my 3 years of delving into speculative realist philosophy has been a simultaneous exploration of the historical intellectual thought in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I remain as much a materialist and atheist as I have ever been, but find the intellectual journey of these religions far more interesting than that of the Abrahamic faiths I have been surrounded by for most of my life. In some ways I believe they can show glimpses of what intellectual life would be like in the western half of Eurasia (and its descended colonies) were it not for the rise of Christianity. Particularly in Japan, Mongolia, and China, where foreign religions largely integrated with pre-existing polytheism rather than simply replacing or expunging them. The only places in the west where such syncretism occurred is in Afro-Caribbean influenced places, some Native American modern beliefs, and New Orleans voodoo-and those of course are heavily dominated by surrounding Christian cultures.

Hinduism had outright atheistic and materialistic schools of thought, and Buddhism denies the immutable soul and upholds philosophical inquiry as dialectic exchange. Certain concepts, such as ‘Indra’s Web’ (shared by both), a concept of the universe as a web containing droplets where each droplet reflects the others ad infinitum, have a remarkable level of confluence with Whitehead’s process theory or to be much more contemporary Bryant’s ‘democracy of objects’- with the notable exception that the philosophical trends are expressed materialistic, and the religious concepts usually are the opposite. Still, much of this way of thinking effectively did not exist in the west from late antiquity until Shopenhauer and its interesting to follow its trends as thought in parts of the world where it was in effect never interrupted.

This bring me to my main point here with the post, and its a problem I have with both process theory and other adjacent to the new speculative turn schools of thought as well as those eastern religions. The problem is quite simple: sure the universe is all interconnected, but this certainly does not mean that it is all *one*.

One of the reasons I have always been partial to hard polytheistic cosmologies as cultural complex is because while there is the acknowledgement that the pantheon of (I would hold, symbolic) figures all takes place in the same world, they are fundamentally different and sometimes at odds. While many philosophical trends, secular and eastern, are superior to the brute certitude and absolutism of Abrahamism, they still can’t quite bring themselves to see the power of chaos and repulsion. In fact, repulsion seems one of the few universal values that can be said to observably exist.

I generally find metaphysics that are not grounded in actual science or natural philosophy to be nothing but faffing about and New Agey nonsense, and fortunately my background in being an astronomy nerd is in fact much longer and more robust than that of philosophy. Dark Energy, so far considered the dominant force of our universe, immediately comes to mind. If the concept of negative mass can be proven it will contribute to this. The fact that gravity is universal and omnipresent, but also weak compared to the forces of energy (dark or otherwise) also makes a case of interconnections not being enough to overcome repulsion. But this is, first and foremost, a humanities blog and there the immediate effects of repulsion seem most obvious.

In international relations we find the natural desire for all states, no matter their official ideological inclination, to balance and counter-balance each other so as to maintain the maximum freedom of action in an anarchic inter-state world that is possible. In culture and politics we see competition leading to rivalry which leads to divergence, and unity only possible when a majority is willing to countenance the use of force to keep such unity alive. Societal bonds break down both for oppression from an increasingly alien ruling class as well as in times of immense complacency and opulence. New mergers are often only possible when two groups fear a third group more, in which case unity itself is the product of an even higher level of repulsion. Foreign attack or invasion is the best way to create unity, because the level of general repulsion is often held to be greater than that which occurs naturally within a society when not under existential threat. When things are left to their natural anarchic state, repulsion is the norm. It is unity that is the artificial construct and temporary state, beneficial as it can often be. But repulsion seems to be the baseline all is working from on the macro-scale. As the Arab proverb goes (paraphrasing here): ‘My country against other countries, my region against my country, my town or city against my region, my family against my town, me against my family.’ What we see here is that unity is only truly reliable when a greater force of repulsion is present. Even those insufferable kinds of people filled universal love show this by the scorn they heap upon those that deny their vision and the hierarchies of condescension they create from those who follow the doctrine they espouse down to ‘the unenlightened’ who do not.

Some schools of thought in speculative realism, especially Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology, adopt a view more closely to what I am getting to with repulsion. Despite being more on the process theory side of things (as, I think increasingly, am I), Bryant talks about such issues as well. These thinkers speak not only of withdrawn objects and and the core of objects being inaccessible, but also of the real material basis for divergence between objects in thought. As stated before, I myself am not into the metaphysical side of things enough to bother as much with this aspect, but I do think that one can acknowledge that everything is interconnected through processes while still rejected the idea that ‘all is all one’-unless that one thing is base struggle. Interconnections need not mean monism or uniformity. In fact, rivalry and division are also a form of being connected to things. A kind of connection through repulsion-which is still a type of relationship of course but one of many rather than of one.

All of this is to quibble with semantics of course. But I feel for those of us who study the competition of societies vis-a-vis each other, or the unpredictability of change in any form, it is a useful rhetorical tool to have. It also has the positive value of being able to repel hippies and anti-intellectual ‘its like, all one mannnnn’ type people who deny the very real existence of power struggle and the importance of divergences in thought while still engaging with some concepts common in discourse that are not themselves wrapped up in Platonic forms or absolutism.

Or in other more flippant words, maybe interconnections through repulsion is the true, ahem, ‘middle path.’