The Rise of the Woke Warrior Wymynne

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A proper meritocracy should eliminate ethnic, sectarian, and gender discrimination in order to increase the mobility of its talent pool. In an anarchic inter-state system it should be obvious that states that follow such a reasoning will probably have a more intellectually robust policy class capable of more challenging internal discussions and thus more creative policies than its competition. This is a strong argument based not on morality but on strategic performance for the utility of what could be deemed an ‘intersectional’ approach to governing. One which I would support and could think of numerous examples in history where inclusivity in the policy classes paid real dividends. Amy Chua-of all people-even wrote a historically simplistic, if single-issue-convincing, book about this very subject called ‘Day of Empire’.

But acknowledging this should not make us blind to the usage of such policies in service of propaganda or an establishment which opens some doors while shutting others. Such is increasingly the case with the Woke Warrior Woman.

The Woke Warrior Women, or Wymynne if one is feeling extra spicy, are effectively the same lanyarded defense-nerds that have existed among the bipartisan consensus guys in American foreign policy circles. Support for military expansion and interventionism is always a net good, opposition to it is always at least misguided. American Exceptionalism is assumed to be at least somewhat true, and the agency or reasoning of foreign actors is often viewed on a scale of morality play vis-a-vis American norms and objectives. But now these types are more strongly identified as Democrats with solidly progressive chops on domestic (social) issues. Newly ‘radicalized’ by Trump and flush with the relative successes of the Obama years (fittingly, an administration that only truly succeeded on domestic social policy and reverted to Bushism on everything else), the WWW (W3?)’s believe themselves to be edgy and successful boundary pushers.

The actual effect of what they are largely doing in the present context, however, is to simply increase the size of the tent for the policies that are long since established as unchangeable and establishment-defended without actually changing any of those policies themselves. In many ways this is the cultural signifier for how the Democratic Party mainstream continues to drift to the neoconservative right. It is, in its own internal logic, a rational response in a way. If the international liberal order is no longer and inevitable end-destination of a humanity moving clearly on a linear and progressive path than perhaps this sinking ship can only be righted by taking it into battle and sinking all the other ships first. In this particular way the neocons were actually smarter than the traditional liberals-at least they recognized that their pie in the sky teleology was not reachable without hard power behind it.

Of course, rather than learn the lesson that perhaps the view of history as a universal and progressive process leading to a unified conclusion is far more faith than science (or even really humanities), it becomes easier for such people not to intellectually challenge themselves but rather just advocate more strident methods to keep their illusions going. The slipping of mainstream liberalism into neoconservative territory as reflected by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party is really a natural result of this type of flailing. They have to maintain that Iraq was bad-it is now entrenched as a partisan issue-but Syria and Libya were different because…reasons. Never mind both states were significantly better governed than Iraq ever was under Saddam or that Syria’s sectarian divisions are even more convoluted and dangerous than that of Iraq. Here come the Samantha Powers, and they know what is best! They aren’t some knuckledragging brutes, and so they can bring a different perspective!

Except that so far, they really don’t. Women, like men, are only allowed into the Beltway Consensus Club’s highest echelons if they tow that very consensus. In building a new government from scratch this may be necessary, but in an old and well established institution this can often be intellectual death. If growing the tent means the same ideological uniformity, then the tent’s actual potential for adaptability and new thinking is utterly squandered.

Madeline Albright’s enforcement of the sanctions regime on Iraq in the 90s was every bit as brutal in its effect and lack of results as the actual invasion was. Samantha Power’s complicity in aiding the Saudi intervention in Yemen is every bit of the policies she once criticized others for doing, and Gina Haspel’s running of an ‘enhanced interrogation’ black site was on the same level of support for bad policy that the once derided John Yoo used to give.  Maybe Yoo wishes he once could have played the woman card. It certainly will be used by much of the media and political classes to dismiss criticism of Trump’s new appointee to head the CIA.

What most of this, of course, is that the defense establishment has smelled the winds of change. They tried to hold the line on being somewhat conservative until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell showed them that, given shifting norms and the youthful demographic they seek to recruit, not only could they survive by adopting social liberalism but also that they could *thrive* with it.

This is not an unwise choice. The military was in fact throwing away endless amounts of talent before. It is perfectly reasonable for them to adopt this line as they move into a world where young people with socially reactionary views on gender and sexuality become smaller and smaller…But make no mistake, the goals of this type of marketing is just as much about getting on the good graces of the public and commentariat classes as it is expanding the recruit pool. If people nod their heads in agreement at the ‘wokeness’ (performative or otherwise) in the Pentagon or among defense contractors, they might be more willing to overlook the blatant financial malfeasance that goes on in such places, the mercenary like costliness of many private allied organizations, and the normalization of endless and unnecessary warfare.

If much of the establishment continued to hold on to the socially conservative front, it might be overextended when it also tried to hold on to its more bottom line fiscal and foreign policy fronts. You can only save so many dinosaurs at one time, and social issues represent by far the least amount of sacrifice for the old guard to dispense with. The military only looks better in the public sphere when ViceVox can write up an article about how Totally Tubular it is that These Women Drone Pilots are Spreading Wokeness over the Skies of Yemen!

One the other hand, though, at least their messaging has improved from the old ‘join the marines and slay green screen dragons’ days:

 

Navigating the Beringian Age of Geopolitics

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I have written numerous Eurasia geopolitics articles, North America articles, and a South American article on here so far. It was my plan to do Africa next, but instead it seems first comes one which is both Eurasia and North America together. Go figure.

Eurasia is what is often referred to as ‘The World Island’ in classical geopolitics. The closest thing our present geological era has to a supercontinent. For much of history land power was easier and cheaper to wield than sea power-though obviously this has changed since-and Eurasia, being directly connected to humanity’s birthplace of Africa and the birthplace of both agriculture and animal domestication was the location of the strongest and most technologically advanced states. Up until the rise of the United States this was almost always true, with a one off in Carthage, a possible economic Malian interlude in the Middle Ages, and Egypt really being the only periodic exception (and even then just barely as it straddled two continents). Having the majority of Earth’s population and societies, Eurasia was the natural laboratory of state formation and warfare innovation, especially connected as it was with other parts of its own massive expanse due to a plethora of natural harbors an an ‘inland sea’ of sorts in the grasslands of the Eurasian steppe that stretch from Hungary to Manchuria.

The first geopolitical thinkers to really get into this World-Island thesis were people like Halford Mackinder, who came of prominence in a time when the British were still top dogs but knew their time was running out due to the rapid rise of German, Russian, and American power. He was the first to postulate that the rapid industrialization of these powers and the expansion of their railroad networks would return the logistical and military initiative to land powers for the first time since the decline of the steppe nomads who had once been the qualitatively dominant military force in world history. It would become a British obsession, soon to be inherited also by the Americans, French, and Japanese as well, to hinder any one power from exerting this level of dominance over Eurasia, the continent-of-continents. The French would use alliances and dominance of Africa to attempt to be a secondary player in this game, the Japanese would attempt to carve out their own exclusive sphere, and the Americans would use their fortunate geography to sit around, sabotage everyone else from a distance, and then come roaring in with economic power and naval power. Russia, the second place player, had become the Eurasian colossus always feared in the form of the Soviet Union. But a rising China and a hostile Western Europe and Japan kept it safely in check and America secure. Eurasia was still too big and too diverse to become someone’s private world-island. Even in the face of the power and prestige of the largest an most mobile army the world had yet to see.

But this very falling of the dice called into question the Eurasian presumption. It was a North America, dominated by one power which also in turn dominated South America, that became the first truly global maritime power. As I wrote about on here previously, this leads to many factors to reconsider the concept of the ‘world island’: be it the very concept itself or which continent it might be. I argued that North America makes a better case if the concept is to be used.

What is clear, however, is that great power rivalry in the near future will more heavily involve North America and Eurasia as the central poles of alliance networks. This does not mean that major conflicts and powers will not arise elsewhere, but for the time being the changes that will matter most will happen on these two land masses. Their past interactions have already had a massive import on the world we live in causing spillovers across the planet, even pre-dating modern humanity when a more Eurasia-connected North America wreaked disproportionate devastation on South America.

There is nothing mystical or obscure about this. These are the continents with the largest East-West widths which enable an easier and more rapid spread of flora and fauna within climate zones, something that quite possibly helps the spread of human technology and infrastructure as well. Both have long productive coastlines, vast stretches hospitable to life but also diverse in biome, and connecting interior highways of grasslands and big navigable rivers. Due to the movement of plate tectonics and shifting sea depths due to ice ages, both continents would periodically compete and exchange life forms in evolution in more recent history than many other continental collisions. For most of history Eurasia was clearly the place to be for humans maximizing their power. The horse, a North American creature originally, would die out there before being reintroduced by the Spanish but thrive in Eurasia. Eurasia was bigger, most diverse, more connected with other places. It had the good fortune to have a larger span of dray-maritime real estate for agriculture and the most animals situated for domestication. North America lacked this critical large pack beast advantage. It was also, of course, settled by humanity significantly later than Eurasia was due to simple reason of location and distance from Africa.

The human version of the Great American Interchange would begin in 1492, though the uneven nature of it would not be apparent until the fall of the Aztec Empire to the Spanish decades later. Spanish iron, gunpowder, pack animals, and sea power would be decisive despite the fact that North America had on average even larger cities than Europe in Mesoamerica and just as-if not more diverse-agricultural crops and practices. Despite their late comparative peopling and isolation, Mesoamerica (and the Andes) had numerous inventions and highly advanced urban planning, irrigation systems, and in the Aztec and Mayan worlds specifically, written bureaucracies.

The technological disparity forged in the furnace of Eurasian state formation was an obvious advantage to the invaders, but it was not the most important one. Technology can be adopted and copied. The Spanish were few and far from home. It was the pathogens they brought from their long contact with pack animals that were truly decisive. The labor saving animals may have jump-started resource collection and travel, but for the point of the Columbian Exchange, the most important part was the diseases the Eurasians had partial immunity to that the Native Americans did not. On reading in this topic I have seen estimates of death rates due to disease anywhere from 80%-95%. It remains an open issue, but this was a far deadlier outbreak of pestilence for the western hemisphere than the Bubonic Plague ever had been in Eurasia. It also led to ridiculous myths about Native Americans being backward as many of their societies had been fatally weakened if not outright destroyed before they had ever even been seen by the newcomers. The western hemisphere had become a post-apocalyptic tableau of societal collapse. Spain had the keys to be the pre-eminent world power, the only country in that era that realistically could have equaled or surpassed Ming China.

And yet the technology was still too young. Spain squandered its gains by using pillaged gold in galleon convoys to basically drive up inflation. Its infrastructure would remain largely feudal at home and in the colonies. Meanwhile, piracy on the high seas of these easy Spanish pickings by British, French, and Dutch privateers would in fact end up benefiting those countries more at Spain’s expense. The cauldron of Eurasian competition was offshore to the oceans and outside of Europe, relocating to the Americas. By having to hack out self-sustaining colonies out of the blue these more northerly powers would end up getting more of the benefit from the new world with tobacco, cotton, furs, and timber. Native Americans north of Mesoamerica were less ‘advanced’ and lesser in numbers than those further south, but this in fact made them far more difficult to conquer. They were mobile, more open to adaptation in war, and could not be simply overrun by a specific region or city. Plus, they now had competeing powers to play off each other for weapons, horses, and supplies. For about a century, from the mid 17th to mid 18th Century, the Natives of North America would in fact be equal partners in the great power rivalry that dominated the continent. Either way, the Spanish unipolar moment in the hemisphere (and thus the potential of bringing that power home as well) was over. Even without the arrival of the new European powers, the Pueblo Indians and the Comanche had already rolled back the Spanish frontier in the north, and the Mapuche had stopped it in the southern cone of South America.

In many ways the European nations could only thrive in North America if the natives were fighting each other. But many of the natives gained when European fought as well. The Iroquois would destroy their long tong rivals, the Huron, and then go on to roll back Quebec’s frontier with their musket-armed forces. Hudson’s bay firearms-for-fur trading would empower the Blackfoot to heights previously unheard of for them, and the previously mentioned Comanche basically ran their own horseback empire in the southwest for a century at Spanish expense. This was a multipolar world. Then British naval power took Quebec and expelled the French from the continent. A defensive Spain could only play catch up as British goods and settlers flooded the continent. Unipolar domination of the Western Hemisphere, an explicit goal of William Pitt the Elder, then Prime Minister, once again looked in sight with London-rather than Madrid-its true heir. Demographics had now tipped in favor of the settlers. Europeans outnumbered Native Americans in their own continent. Despite the partial rolling back of the frontier in Pontiac’s War, Native solidarity could not survive the American Revolution and the subsequent Northwest War where the US army was born after its largest ever battlefield defeat at the hands of the Shawnee, Miami, and Lenape-but critically from the geopolitical (if not cultural) perspective, neither did Britain’s North American empire. The first independent country of the colonial era had arisen in the Americas, it would soon be followed by many others. Events in Europe were about to give the Americas a big break.

Napoleon upsetting Europe’s apple cart turned out to be the most important thing. Haiti would be the next country to fight for and gain independence. With Spain reeling from French occupation, its colonies in Central and South America would soon follow. Kicked out of North America south of Canada (aside from Caribbean Isles and Guyanas of course) and much more into India these days anyway, the British would pull a 180 degree turn after the stalemate of the War of 1812 and thoroughly support the independence of Spain’s former colonies in order to keep them out too and open the markets of these new countries to British goods. It was in this world that North America’s first diplomatic counter-blow to the dominance of Eurasian-based states would come: The Monroe Doctrine.

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At the time of its formulation in the early Victorian era the United States most certainly did not have the power to enforce the claim of the doctrine, which was to oppose European re-colonization or re-establishment of spheres of influence over their former territories. Britain or France could have swept the American navy aside had they so chosen. But now Britain was the secret enforcer behind the American declaration. They weren’t going to take Latin America directly for themselves, so they would make damn sure no one else did, either. After the US-Mexico War it was obvious the U.S. was growing in power to one day enforce it on its own, however.

The doctrine had only one failure, the American Civil War. With the one great power of the western hemisphere divided against itself in a death struggle, and the secondary power of the region (Brazil) involved in a surprisingly costly war with a delusionally expansionistic Paraguay and without much of a navy, France moved in to establish a proxy-state in a weakened Mexico. Though the Mexicans would hold their own under Benito Juarez, the French would not be evicted fully until the American Civil War was over and the US army was redeployed on the border to threaten them and ship weapons directly to the Mexican forces.

The Civil War made a federation of squabbling pseudo republics into a proper nation. This nation was the empire of the west in all but name. With growing modern naval power and a final bookend of sweeping Spain from its remnants in 1898, the last vestiges of the old order had been relegated to a few isolated enclaves and Canada, itself already beginning the process of unofficially turning south. The worlds biggest economy and industrial producer now lay there, after all. Available resources and land along the wide continent were fueling a growth in power rapid beyond any previous one in recent history.

In this light of viewing the poles of conflict as geographic, it was now time for the power or North America to come to benefit from the misfortune of Eurasia. This time it would be neither disease nor technology but Eurasia’s multitude of great powers that would spell the reversal of the location of the world-island. From a large and removed scale much as multiple conflicts could be viewed as different phases in one grand struggle for mastery in America (Piracy and the Beaver Wars in the late 17th Century through the Mexican-US War), so too would the rise of new and fall of old powers in Eurasia set up a struggle for master in Eurasia which would last from 1902-1945 (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Russo-Japanese War, First World War, Russian Civil War, Turkish War of Independence, The Second World War). Britain sought to sure up its declining position by breaking its ‘splendid isolation’ and joining with Japan. Japan put the brakes on Russian expansion in southern Manchuria and its eventual dream target, Korea, eventually taking these things for itself and starting its own growth as a new power. This made Germany more a threat to the maritime alliance than Russia and made Russia more bellicose in its European objectives towards German allies. France, already in danger of being eclipsed, linked with with Russia and Britain to stave off this threat. The dying old empires of Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans would hitch a ride on German power in order to reverse their decline and ensure survival. They would end up the biggest losers of all in eventual Allied victory.

The United States played an important, but not decisive role in the First World War, but it was clearly now one of the big players at the global level. Though on the surface it seemed France and Britain had gained much from the conflict, the gains were of little long term value and their overall global position had actually been weakened. The British solider and poet Siegfried Sassoon ruminated that the only nations to gain from the war he fought in was the United States and Japan. Indeed, there were now three established naval powers by treaty, Britain, the USA, and Japan. Britain was part of a triumvirate that couldn’t get along. So much for ruling the waves. Not only that, but the Russians and Turks both, whose empires had utterly collapsed in the war, successfully fought to expel Allied backed foreign intervention in their lands leading to near immediate revisions of the postwar settlements made at their expense. Turkey would become an independent republic and the Soviet Union would reclaim most of the Tsar’s collapsed domains. Both would make rapid gains in development and education that would outstrip their less fortunate semi-colonized neighbors. More importantly, until WWII, they would be tacitly allied with each for precisely this end. The first tremors of independence movements started to rock India and Ireland. The colonial powers were living on borrowed time. Japan, having yet to experience a reverse outside of the Siberian Intervention, largely continued forward with that previous era’s policies of expansion, however, putting on a collision course with the United States.

World War II would settle Eurasia’s issue. Despite the ‘Great Game’ beginning due to fears of Russian domination, that would be exactly the outcome of all of this. Russian and American domination, that is. For all the death, destruction and misery The Second World War would cause a majority of the planet and especially the eastern and western edges of Eurasia itself, The Axis Revolt, as it could be termed, served much like the American Civil War only to delay the inevitable at great cost. In fact, it aided what was coming. The Soviets broke Germany, the Americans broke the Japanese, and each fought the other Axis powers at some time or another victoriously. But before this outcome it is relevant to note that the Germans had also now broken the French, and the Japanese had broken the British. There were only two powers. The Soviet Eurasian Heartland and the United States Western Hemisphere Dominion. The world was getting smaller due to technology, but the powers only got larger. When Britain and France tried to re-insert themselves as decisive actors in the great power game with the Suez Crisis, they found only embarrassment as the Russians threatened them and the Americans scolded them and offered no support.

But despite the one sided history in Eurasia’s favor, the Cold War would show that North America finally had the leg up. Naval power did still rule over land power despite Mackinder’s fears. Eurasia was too multi-polar and divided and it was harder for the USSR to export power when their Chinese proteges (now having replaced Japan to regain their traditional place as East Asia’s most strategically relevant country) could turn to their own interests once they were strong enough to stand up to a domineering partner. There was not, yet, an equivalent of this in the America’s to complicate the United States’ position-though if there one day were it would most likely be Brazil.

It was with deftness and skill that Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger saw that world that was coming out of a simple binary. The Cold War was a power struggle, in my opinion, and the ideology that marked so much of it on both sides was largely intellectual cover for competition in the ripe proxy combat ground of the third world and newly independent former colonies. Both feared the world hegemonic goals of the other. Mix and match any number of socio-economic models with globe-spanning powers that big and strong and you would have a rivalry no matter what. So it was that two pre-eminent wingnut cold warriors of their respected countries created the conditions for bringing China in as a third pole to the rivalry, one that would send the Soviets into a conniption and, in the end, fatal death spiral of defense spending. It was this, in my opinion, that decided the Cold War more than any of Reagan’s policies, which largely took effect when the terminal decline was already taking place in Moscow. But it is worth noting that in the 60s and 70s the growth of the Soviet economy and tech sectors made many people, Kissinger included, convinced that the future was theirs more than the USA’s. China sold the new alliance to its people with much the same thinking as rhetoric. ‘The Americans will decline, the Russians are more the threat.’ In geopolitics the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Cold Warriors of the smarter varieties could see that their societies were no different from others with interests like when the Catholic French supported the Protestants in the 30 Years War against their fellow Catholics in Hapsburg Austria. Its the traditional cost benefit calculation of Cardinal Richelieu.

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With the breakup of the USSR this proved to be the opposite. Or, more accurately, the USSR declined *first*. The United States did not gain in power in the post-Cold War era so much as have all checks on its preexisting power removed. Now Washington would call the shots directly in Eurasia in places never before imagined. China had ways to go at that point to replace Russia as the bipolar competitor, but by now its safe to say it may well reach that point in my life time. But much like how the USSR could alienate China, so too could China alienate India, or one day even Russia.

This brings us to the present, and many topics I have and will go over again and have before in other entries. So, to go full circle, the fate of geopolitics in the foreseeable future relies on events in North America and Eurasia and their interaction with each other. Right now, North America still holds an advantage, though having foolishly driven Russia into China’s arms by its own hubris, (thus counteracting Brzezinski’s grand strategic advice) its an advantage rapidly being squandered. Meanwhile, China’s One Belt One Road initiative resembles another attempt to create the internal ‘world island’ where a dominant power in Eurasia is safe from the sea-power of its foes. Having learned many lessons from Soviet and, increasingly, American failure, a concerted buildup of this inland international interior could end up being a challenge the USSR never was. Or not. Eurasia’s multipolar and divided nature still counts against it and India seems to be solidly orienting towards the oceanic world for obvious geographic reasons. Still, there is nothing so complacent as assuming the present state of sovereign nations is in any way permanent. That never has been true in the past.

Something that I could see if things changed more drastically is a Beringian World. In a Beringian World, the geopolitical alliances that matter most are a dominant power or alliance network in one continent being opposed in its own hemisphere by a defensive coalition backed by the dominant power of the other continent, which in turn is opposed by its own local coalition backed by the dominant power of the other continent. What this might look like with the present international states would be a China-backed Brazil or even Mexico (though that is less likely I think) or collection of South American states under Chinese partnership which in turn is reciprocated by a US-backed India or even eventually Russia. If China and Russia somehow stay friends permanently, this will be manifest in bringing Japan, Indonesia, and India closer together, a project which, arguably, is already underway in those countries.

Should China experience a decline or a shocking sudden state failure, however, this may reverse. If Japan and India are close together they might take up the mantle of Latin America’s revisionist states and the US will have to find no friends to balance against them. This is, of course, all very long term and hypothetical.

The point is, once Eurasian countries divided up North (and South) America for their spoils. Then North America rode a wave of Eurasia dividing itself up to become the center of political power. But now the technological disparities have largely gone from between them and the world continues to shrink bringing both new allies and new enemies. In a future Beringian World the geopolitical center of gravity might be split between both continents, which will, strategically speaking, come together as part of the same world in a way not seen since the seas were low and the Bering Strait open, when wild canines left the Americas to colonize and independently evolve all over the world.

Of course, some new exclusive resource revolutionizing technology could always finally through the ball to another region. You never know.

In the more near future don’t be surprised if you see another Nixon-goes-to-China moment except more likely with another power being the recipient of the visit and no one as smart as Nixon to do the visiting. If you see it, I encourage you to follow it as it flies away, it will be relevant if it fails or succeeds.

 

Academics vs Lanyards

Ive walked the path in both worlds and I have a disturbing revelation: Academics often have smarter and more informed conceptions of foreign policy than the lanyards who work ‘in the field’ directly.
 
This is *not* to say that academics are not often utterly deluded themselves. They are often too in love with theory and models that do not apply to the chaos and moral neutrality of reality. But in a direct comparison with an average academic in the field and an average foreign policy lanyard I have to say 9/10 the academic will come out on top. Why?
 
Because even though being an academic *often* results in being utterly consumed by an ideology or cause, its not always. Also it means constantly being challenged by colleagues who do not share the same intellectual background (unless of course one is a postmodernist who thinks everyone can magically be right ‘in their own way’). In the case of the lanyard ghoul, however, it almost always means being surrounded by utterly like minded individuals and never being challenged professionally on anything that isn’t simply topical to preexisting assumptions. Indeed, there may be social pressure not the rock the boat. It also means being ensconced inside a hive that believes itself to be post-ideological when in fact it is anything but and that therefore all criticism must be ‘extremist’ even if it is extremely factually grounded.
 
I think a good and calculating instinct with a background of being historically and geographically well informed is key, but if I couldn’t have that I would still take an absent minded professor over a self described professional ‘wonk’ who uncritically totes the main line they were basically indoctrinated with since childhood any day. Such people will be the death of us all.

‘Hostiles’: A Review of a Saga of Rogue Culture

Hostiles Pic

I have reviewed from a geopolitical perspective on this blog numerous books, at least one television show, one gaming setting, and, superficially, an entire trend of movie subgenres which as ‘The Post’ shows clearly has not gone away. But I have yet to do a review for a specific film. Well, a good one anyway. It’s time to change that. ‘Hostiles’ has earned the right to be the first. This will not really be a conventional film review of course, but more the political theory take on the movie. My personal opinion is that the film is amazing, a type of ‘Apocalypse Now’ western were the journey is more important than the destination and many conventional tropes and tackled in an unconventional way. The basic synopsis is that a woman whose family was murdered by Comanche horse thieves finds her path overlapping with a US Army mission to take a dying Cheyenne chief back to his birthplace across the country from New Mexico to Montana for public relations purposes. Along the way in the chaotic end to the frontier era this state mission meets many of the still existing non-state actors, usually with violent outcomes.

Also, Wes Studi, who played Magua in Last of the Mohicans, is the chief. As if you needed any more reason to see it.

While the message of former enemies coming together to fight new threats is hardly novel, especially in the Western genre, this movie does it particularly well. In a setting of wide open and barely populated spaces transitioning from free roaming cultures to increased property speculation and control, crime and raiding are rife. State authority is weak to nonexistent and a state of war in an officially pacified west can still persist in some places. As the Cheyenne, who are technically still US Army prisoners, must be freed to help fight the Comanche and then others as the story unfolds, formerly embittered battlefield rivals come to rely on each other to survive-and this very struggle for survival creates a new, and extremely strong alliance.

What we have in the movie is a situation of the Hobbesian state of ‘war of all against all’ which prevails outside of an internally organized society. International Relations scholars might also refer to this as similar to the ‘state of anarchy’ which reigns in foreign policy as there exist few checks on powerful states on the world-wide level. What we see in ‘Hostiles’ is this situation in microcosm which much smaller bands of people to give it a more personal touch. The very tag line of the film: ‘We are all Hostiles’ basically tells the general tone.

What becomes interesting is how the distinctions of Cheyenne and United States gradually fade to be replaced with that of the band itself. Kept together at first by necessity, the former rivals have effectively left past distinctions behind and became their own ‘tribe’, against any that threaten it. This is similar to how so many settlers from different, and often hostile, nations in Europe would eventually become early Americans (as well as Latin Americans). It also has echoes of various steppe nomad confederations in Eurasia who quite literally constructed many an ethnic group that would found new states based off of nothing but mutual enemies and a shared horseback lifestyle. The Metis culture in western Canada too was an amalgamation of French trappers and Algonquian Indians which became its own thing, as was the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy which was formed of previously warring tribes for the purpose of creating security in upstate New York and to make those tribes more capable at projecting their power outwards at other rivals. Before the threat of assimilation into Russian society appeared there was no such thing as a pan-Siberian native sentiment, but then there was one. One that in the 19th Century even included many settlers in that territory. There were also many multi-ethnic enclaves of pirates in the West Indies and the southern Indian Ocean in the age of piracy on the high seas, united only by being outcasts and renegades who would go own to develop a rogue culture of their own. Spartacus’ revolt also comes to mind, as do the early Cossacks around the Black Sea.

We may even be seeing something similar happening today in Syria. Though Syria was always regarded by the vast majority of its citizens as a sovereign and legitimate nation, the ties of loyalty between minorities and anti-salafist sunni facing a foreign backed coalition of fundamentalists and sectarians have probably only strengthened the ties of loyalty and really fostered a sense of Syrian-ness like nothing in modern history ever has before. Hence why attempts to stir up a sectarian war to bog down Iran in total state collapse in Syria have so far failed. Planners in Riyadh saw Sunni vs Shia and Alawite, but in trying to exacerbate those divisions they made sure they were really battling Syrians themselves.

Ibn Khaldun was called this ‘Assabiyya’ and I have certainly spoken of it before in other contexts. It’s the group-solidarity that many a successful new society is built on, and many an ageing society loses before its collapse.

In a world where ‘we are all hostiles’ it is worth noting that those people who fall outside of and in between major established divisions in preexisting society must band together in order to survive, and, as ever the realist that I am, the alliances may be surprising and more often than not dictated upon circumstance than any real values. The old paradigms largely become irrelevant as they are overtaken by events as it is. In the end, every society came from nowhere, after all, and will in the future be replaced by those yet to exist. Bonds of personal loyalty not of kin but of shared experience forge the links of new orders when older ones break down.

Nothing fits this more than the point in the film when the band, no having given up all pretense of being official and hierarchical, ends up in a shootout with some Ron/Rand Paul type property guardians over trespassing. At this point an American army captain is shooting at people on their own property and they are shooting at him despite the federal legality of his presence there. But what came to matter there, in the middle of nowhere and far from the institutions that set these events in motion, was the immediate group and not the official and distant loyalties.

In a time where people of all stripes are losing faith in institutions of all kinds all around the world, this is worth thinking about and appreciating as shown on the small scale in the film ‘Hostiles.’

Anyway, have a Lakota song translated into English:

James Graham, Marquess of Montrose: A Modern and Relevant Career

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Montrose led to the gallows in Edinburgh by the Covenanter theocracy.

I just finished C.V. Wedgewood’s short biography on James Graham, Marquess of Montrose. Though I had previously read her seminal work on The Thirty Years War, I had no idea she had written a book on Montrose until I randomly discovered it in my local used book store. By the way, please patron your local used book store. Mine is Second Story Books in Washington DC, and it absolutely rules.

Montrose is my favorite military commander of the British Civil Wars (more famously but erroneously called ‘The English Civil War’ even though it began in Scotland and ended in Ireland). Unlike many unjustly lionized loser-generals (ahem, Lee, Hannibal, arguably MacArthur), Montrose was a guy who lost in the end, but showed immense skill and daring in an impossible situation practically no one would be expected to pull off a stalemate in, much less a succession of improbable victories.

Montrose originally began the war on the rebel side, finding the overreach of the King and his neglect of his Scottish birthplace galling. As is so often the case both in our world and that of the past, rebels have a real reason to pissed. But as is also the case, when rebellion jump the shark loyalties change. Montrose served successfully as a commander in the rebel forces to seek negotiation with the King. When it became obvious that the rebels were no longer interested in negotiation now that they had a window to establish a theocracy of their own and a chance to force Presbyterianism on the population of Scotland by fiat, however, Montrose defected to the monarchy as the lesser of evils and began to set up a resistance within the very country he had just cleared of pro-Stuart forces. Perhaps he had been naive to believe in ‘moderate rebels’, certainly many can be. But few at the earlier juncture could have seen the unexpected rise of Archibald Campbell, First Marquess of Argyle and the leverage he would give to fanatics once he wormed his way into Scotland’s body politic as the chief powerbroker.

With a class of theology nerds, the 17th Century equivalent of alt right neckbeards and the tumblrgelicals of today but guided by all the screeching antireason of the modern day evangelical right, ensconced in power in Edinburgh, Montrose raised and led a tiny and ramshackle coalition of all those opposed to the rule of a single theocratic faction. With Irish Catholics, disaffected Scottish Protestants, Stuart royalists, and those driven to extremity by the Covenanter occupation all serving as one, Montrose’s small band darted in and out of the Highlands, scorching Campbell’s home bases, liberating Aberdeen  and numerous small towns, and defeating much larger Covenanting forces with shock, surprise, deception and maneuver which led their tiny band to have an outsized effect on the conflict. Scotland, which had been entirely won for the rebel cause before the war was yet decided in England, now teetered in uncertainty before a truly crushing set of victories by Montrose liberated the country and put anti-Covenanter forces in power again, with Argyle fleeing the country he had once sought to rule.

With such an emergency on hand, the Scottish rebels fighting under David Leslie in England were recalled and Montrose finally defeated by a numerically and technologically superior force. Seeing the war was basically over in the decisive theater of England (this stage of it anyway) Montrose negotiated terms from his Highland bases, ensuring escape for many of his band before they were declared outlaws. He made his way to Norway, and then, later when the rebels executed the King and the Covenantors broke with the English Parliament over it and other issues, he raised exile support from the new heir-in-exile, Charles II. Montrose would land in Orkney and raise a new army in support of Chucky, but would be double-crossed in negotiations of that monarch with the restored Argyle. Eventually, he would be captured, put on a show trial, and executed in Edinburgh and Charles II would flee after failing to make a compromise with the ruling fanatics. All accounts of the humiliating parade of Montrose on his way to execution state he was calm and composed, even staring down Argyle who then elicited the jeers of the crowd for looking away. The way things were going, he knew history would vindicate him and not his opponents. In the end Cromwell would invade and take over Scotland before all the kingdoms got fed up with his Puritan rule and after his death invited back Charles. The Covenanters would go on to be hunted to near extinction, and total suppression, in the coming well-deserved revenge.

Montrose’s legacy in his homeland, however, would only soar. In a messy and complicated legacy left by the Stuarts, he showed what was best and what could have been under their arrangement had things worked out differently. A multi-confessional and multi-ethnic reign but under contract. This would indeed be what Scotland would eventually become, if in a very different way and time period. Even the Scottish National Party of today, despite its seemingly nativist name, courts the votes of minorities and immigrants and had the independence referendum apply to those who lived in Scotland and had residency no matter their background, while denying it to those who lived outside of Scotland. It was the land itself, and the governance thereof, that was what was important over sectarian absolutism, now as it was under Montrose tiny band of anti-theocracy fighters.

Since it is my personal opinion that opposition movements both to tyranny and fanatacism should learn to work with, rather than against, national movements I feel that this example of leadership, and those like it, are worth revisiting today. We live in a world bifurcated between a collapsing and flailing global ruling class who views finance, unsustainable resource extraction, and endless peripheral war as the key to everything on one hand and extreme identitarian nutjobs on the other (be they called ‘moderate rebels’ to describe sectarian jihadists in the Middle East or ‘alt-right’ /white nationalist fascists in the developed world) and the rest of us are just waiting for everything to get worse as these fools hiss at each other over the scraps of a dying planet.

But beyond that vaguely similar situation of needing to cobble together motley coalitions, its Montrose’s battlefield leadership itself that I feel would be illustrative as instructive to the future. Likely, many groups of people forced to fight and survive in the conflict zones of our world will begin as small bands unable to take or hold territory but merely showing that an opposition still exists. The leaders will share hardships with their followers. Then with success and greater recruitment come more conventional operations and the dangers of multi-faceted factional politics and shifting alliances. His life and complicated results serve as an illustrative example of both what once was, but also what might be again-and already is a reality for many in the world. More modern examples of this form of leadership, which I would like to discuss in a later post, are Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Tito for the former Yugoslavia.

Plus, Montrose is a fellow St Andrews University alumnus, so of course I want to claim him. Not to mention that as someone who lived in Edinburgh for years any enemy of the grotesque theocracy that once occupied it and ruled it in a manner similar to how Saudi Arabia is governed today is a friend of mine. The Stewarts, like the Assads, had their huge flaws and helped create the circumstances that led to conflict against them, but the alternative was so much worse. When it comes to the dying present order and the extremist alternatives to it, however, environmental concerns mean such a dynamic of lesser evilism may no longer apply. Another option is needed. I do not know what it is but I do know that like Montrose’s band it will start small, have to cast a very wide tent for supporters, and combat destructive ideology on behalf of the land itself and those living in it rather than specific sectarian or ethnic grievances. I also know that, unlike Montrose, in the end it must not fail.

 

‘Russiagate’ Will be Terrible for Everyone (Except Geotrickster and Independents)

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So far in the unfolding saga of The Election That Never Ends two members of the Trump Administration have been found pretty much dead to rights on being guilty of collusion with a foreign power. One, with Israel. One with both Israel and Turkey. Their names are Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, so far, Russia has only been found to have spent a few hundred thousand dollars on facebook ads almost no one clicked on and smugly giggling as America’s political system melts down in a way that gives the Kremlin inordinate credit.

Is it possible that that Russia had sketchy contacts with Trump campaign, for sure. It is more then justified to have an investigation into this issue given its potential importance. It is not, however, something to A. assume is true with what little we know now, and B. assume is a unique event. The way the partisan ‘return to the status quo at all costs’ types of the Democrats and disaffected rump Republicans act about this issue, one would assume Pearl Harbor and 9/11 just happened at once but no one can see it except people who get Verrit verification codes and write tired and scolding op-eds.

So far, we have been given far more evidence of collusion with foreign governments for Israel and Turkey than Russia, yet this elicits next to no reaction in the mainstream press. The reason is, well, the main topic of this blog: Geopolitics, baby. Turkey and Israel are allies of the United States, if awkward ones. As such, they have numerous think tanks and lobbyists, along with the far more odious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to shape a narrative and be part of the networked in-crowd. I even remember (though sadly cannot find right now) a commercial from around the time of W’s re-election campaign that ran which was just a really blatant and gross ‘your friends in the KSA are your strong allies in the War on Terror piece of propaganda.

It would cost too much to go after these countries, as they have friends in both major parties. Russia, however, has few friends in America outside the diseased corners of the alt right and edgy conspiracy theorists. It is an easy to target to go after, and it is certainly not an ally in any capacity. It is a deeply unsympathetic nation to most people, and, after the invasion of eastern Ukraine, rightly so. Russia further likes to bolster its cred as the anti-west on the world stage by serving as a kind of reactionary foil to the America’s liberal overreach, a set of policies yet to reach the ghastly conclusion I suspect (though we see dark ruminations in Chechnya). There are many points that the U.S. is right to rival Russia on, and other points it should not (such as Syria and combating Daesh). But it should not conduct its foreign policy merely on a popularity contest which as of yet still resides on assertions and not proof.

And then the question is: What if RussiaGate is true? It is still possible, after all. Well then, the problem is that while such proof will obviously necesitate an upgrade in national cybersecurity, it will also count as a well played payback for the late 90s.

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Whoops.

Turns out, in geopolitics there may be friends and foes, but no one is exceptional unless everyone is. And if everyone is exceptional than really no one is.

For context, as recently as 2012 the Obama Administration (who began as quite naive about the dangers Putin posed to them it must be admitted) was still, rightly, criticizing Mitt Romney and his campaign’s ‘Russia is the real enemy’ line of attack on foreign policy. See below:

At the time this was an example of rote-wisdom hawkishness from the Beltway war lobby (which Obama famously referred to as ‘The Blob’) and the Republican Party. But only a year later decidedly unqualified pundits affiliated with the Democratic Party began to take over the exact same opinions they had once mocked of the McCain-Romney wing. I remember the first time I noticed this fixation with Russia was when this clip was brought to attention of a clueless pundit trying to lecture a journalist with on the ground experience in Russia and reporting on Russia based off of bland moralism inheirited from the Cold War:

This has been building for a long time. The neoliberals need a scary and large foreign entity with which to rally support behind them. With the failure of Huntington style ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric to galvanize the right about anything but the Middle East, the center and center-left have taken that tired old thesis and re-purposed it away from culture and into a new cold war narrative about political ideologies.

Considering the low priority this issue carries with most American voters, whose situation only continues to get more dire due to entirely to domestic factors, its already a bit of a trap. If the best it could get us even was a resignation do we then get President Pence? This seems the absolute worst-case scenario to me. Pence, despite being a theocratic dingus and probably a harvester of torsos (male only, I imagine), would then be acclaimed as ‘respectable’ for not being abrasive, which would only allow him more ability to enact his twisted ideologies. This seems a bad move for Democrats.

Even if they got both Pence and Trump, then foreign connections become a major thing looked for as a viable political weapon on all sides. This would benefit me as Saudi Arabia and even possibly Israel would start to become toxic sledgehammers to wield against all sides, but that sure as hell will backfire on the Democrats who are just as in bed, on average, with those countries as the GOP is. So in a sense, even Russiagate skeptics like myself should hope it opens up a big nasty can of worms. The problem though, and its a problem for everyone, is the rank McCarthyism of all of this. I lived over 4 years in a foreign country. I have been to 20 others-including one which (when I was there) the US did not have full relations with yet. I have friends and contacts from all over the world. None of them, Im afraid, are Russian. Sorry Neera Tanden. But still, where does this end? Much of the rhetoric coming out in Democratic circles today is simply blatantly xenophobic ignorance, fearmongering, and redirecting away from obvious explanations for problems closer to home so that vested interests can blame someone else. It really ends up just looking like their side’s version of the infamous Freedom Fries.

If you wish to go further into this topic I recommend some of the episodes of the largely excellent ‘Moderate Rebels’ podcast:

The fact that RussiaGate is most popular with centrist neoliberals also begs one very salient question: If you believe in the free flow of information and capital across borders, then you have to own up that you will have difficulties with fully sovereign elections. And if you want fully sovereign elections you might have to re-think your support of an international system that prioritizes open borders for international finance at all costs.

When Allied with Puritans: My Brief Critique of the Contemporary Left

The Iroquois Confederacy once allied with the New England Puritans against their mutual foes in Quebec and among the Whampanoag. This did not make the Iroquois puritans. In fact, the Iroquois took a much more strident anti-missionary position than even most native confederacies in the 17th Century. But allied strategic interests are what they are.

Not a long post, but a clarification I feel the need to have up here. Geotrickster is openly and admittedly a realist/strategy focused study which gives priority-but not exclusivity-towards foreign policy issues. Overall though, political strategy is both foreign and domestic with the only difference being that in a functional society the same state of anarchy that characterizes international affairs is greatly reduced due to the existence of one government as the final arbiter of issues.

Nonetheless, it should be apparent that this blog has tilted left (as in leftist, not liberal) on a variety of issues before. The reason for that is *not* some kind of ideological commitment but rather the simple (and very realist, in my opinion) desire to make common cause with capable allies against common foes. In an era of economic breakdown, rising nationalist-chauvanism, and above all environmental collapse it just so happens that the left has the most interesting and critical critiques of many issues. Leftists are also the most likely to see serious issues from a structural or material perspective rather than a purely ideological and brand name one (a la conservatives and liberals). This all meets with my approval.

But I feel that, due to this overlap, it might be worth just coming out honestly and stating what my disagreements with mainstream currents of leftism is both to show my independence and to make the point that being allied to the left does not necessarily equate being a leftist itself. I am going to do this in a simplified list form rather than long hand explanation as this is not generally the type of issue for a super detailed post on this blog.

The Limits of Internationalism:

Possibly my biggest single issue of substance. Even in a world where we clearly need a global response to environmental catastrophe, expecting class struggle to be something which could unite people around the globe is patently ridiculous. Sure, a temporary outbreak of anti-rich activity might one day occur, but as important (and often overlooked) as class is, no amount of solidarity will overturn the prioritization of local politics first and the divergent interests which they will inevitably come to represent. Think Sino-Soviet or Yugoslavia-Soviet splits. Core interests of any kind of state on the international scale cannot be overruled by domestic affinity. After all, the left often rightly mocks the democratic peace theory pushed by liberals, so why bother having their own version of it? Even on environmental issues, interests will diverge after a core consensus is hopefully reached. Some regions, after all, will benefit from climate change. It also behooves us as a species whose primary strength is adaptability that we should look towards a diversity of both political and economic systems, rather than a single direction, as it introduces more options of policies to try and replace. Not to mention that the idea that humanity is moving in one linear direction towards an inevitable and predictable future (aside from, of course, eventual extinction at some point) is ridiculous no matter who has it. Surely those who can see the foolishness of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ theory of neoliberalism can see the foolishness of making the same Hegelian error but with Marx this time.

Postmodernism:

While its true that the left is turning away from its monstrous creation with rapidity at the same time said beast is being embraced by liberals and especially conservatives, it still must take responsibility for this issue being popularized and corrupting public discourse into something purely performative, identitarian, and anti-intellectual. Postmodernism is many things, but above all the diametric opposite of materialism, which brings me to my next point…

Leftists are often Moralists, and hence TERRIBLE Materialists:

Since materialism is both on some level quantifiable and observable, materialist outlook is key to understanding political philosophy and case studies alike. Leftists, however, are often recruited from a pool of people who have a psychological need for perpetual moralism. From ridiculous antics on college campuses, to linguistic tone policing, to a general refusal to engage with anyone willing to acknowledge due deference to a subjective set of values, leftists often enjoy performance over action and preaching over working. More directly, a true materialist does not start out with assumptions as to the moral rightness of, say, egalitarianism or human rights. The proper materialist response is more utilitarian and is based on the appraisal of what works best for society where examples could be learned from. If I thought massive wealth divides and top-down class war was actually on net good for society, and could prove my point, I would not be interested in egalitarian policies. I however think the exact opposite. History is replete with examples for societies crumbling due to out of touch ruling classes and alienated populaces, divided by increasingly hoarded wealth. More egalitarian societies also tend, when things are remotely fair, to outperform others in military conflicts. These are real life points one could use to make the case for a sustainable society that are not simple (and simplistic) moralist appeals. Not to mention, I find the moralistic personality type utterly irritating and suspect many others who might otherwise be interested in adopting more left wing policy positions are turned off by what in effect often comes through as humorless evangelicals and church lady fussbudget equivalents. No one who takes themselves *that* seriously is ever going to be good at analyzing strategy from a materialist perspective.

Also, you know, someone disagreeing with you is not the same as someone oppressing you. But that goes for libs and cons alike as well.

And in closing, ‘Problematic’ is a stupid, content-free whine of a non-word, and if you use it unironically in public you should re-think your life.