Reclaim Military History!

timurid-dueling-period-peice

Expect the unexpected. Prepare for collateral damage. Prioritize outcome over ideals. Fear the costs of war and so avoid it whenever possible, but when it is not avoidable prosecute it with the utter ruthlessness of one who knows victory wipes away all prior qualms. These are lessons that seem obvious to anyone with at least a passing engagement in military history. What is increasingly obvious to me, however, is that these are still things found baffling by most of the populations of nations in North America and Western Europe. By failing to take into account of the most important aspects of history, large segments of the populations who can afford such ignorance are often baffled by sudden and shocking current events. When they are told of a plan that fits with their preconceived ideological notions they assume this plan will work. When told of one they disagree with they assume it will never work. People who know the fragility of military plans in history might not be so easily taken in.

So why, if understanding military history has such obvious contemporary value, is it one of the more lost and relegated arts under the humanities umbrella? Why are we now living in a world where vast swathes of the population who fancy themselves ‘informed’ largely get blindsided by events, clutch their pearls, and scream what the year currently is in response?

Well, it’s the same reason when I was an undergrad so many people I was sharing a History major with did topics like ‘Peasant Festivals and Identity.’ It is also, interestingly enough, from the same origin as the present plague of right wing identity politics. More on that last example later, but needless to say, it comes from the hyper-individualistic and romantically affirming hegemonic influence of postmodernism in academia. In the post-Vietnam era studying war became something akin to being a slack-jawed neanderthal, studying ways to ignore it in favor of supposedly lost approaches to human behavior that prioritize emotional response and ‘identity’ took its place. Because of that, I would argue, political science and critical thinking lost a valuable asset in the tools it had to analyze the world around us.

It may not surprise anyone who reads this blog that Victor Davis Hansen and I basically come from nearly opposite perspectives on everything political. He is a hard core neoconservative who often interprets history along a Fukuyama-Hegelianesque path of societies fighting ‘for freedom’ against those who fail to imbibe the Freedumb Fries and also persists in one of my biggest pet peeves, the assumption that there is something inherently special about the ‘western’ world that can be seen throughout history. He often presents us with stuff written for low-information suburban dads who also read Tom Clancy novels style of military history, despite his obvious talents as a nonfiction writer. But one of his books I did really like, ‘The Father of Us All’, in which he argues that military history is engaging, informative, and under siege. It is by far his strongest work and one I enjoyed despite the inevitability of quibbles given the author. He talks at length of the class divide in appreciating military history, with working class students trending much more strongly in favor of it in class to their more economically sheltered peers. It resonated with those who had struggled in life and realized the lack of individual choices in real life and who fate sweeps us along via events much bigger than ourselves. He wrote also about history professors who looked down their noses at people with a war specialty as if they were some kind of ghoulish cabal of necrophiles just flicking through the pages of the past for a rush.

Granted, that is how I got into it myself in a manner of speaking. When I first became interested in history it was to experience a whole new wonderful world of weaponry, armor, and battles that could not be found in the present day world. What can I say? I always liked action and horror movies. I wasn’t silly enough to think it was fun or glorious, far from it, it only confirmed my desire to never experience war directly. But interesting? You bet! I was also in my early teens, so this was in some sense the inevitable bridge to get me into nonfiction events. But even then it taught me valuable lessons like that things never go according to plan, a lot of strange borders make sense if you know the history behind them, geography and ecology are the ultimate determining factor in human affairs, and just how potent human hubris can be. None of these are lessons your average news junkie reblogger of today seems to have learned, but they are all lessons they need. As it was, I ended up diversifying my interests into cultural and diplomatic history just as much as military in adulthood, and my core interest in the militaries of present and past has not stopped me from being a constant agitator against unnecessary conflict, the neoconservative foreign policy status quo, and making a world better fit for a reduction in defense spending to focus on environmental and infrastructure issues as priority whenever possible.

Most tellingly, this kind of military history education could be used to allay some of the pearl clutching over the ongoing fall of Aleppo. Taking two seconds to think before commencing in pearl clutching would make people realize several things:

  1. An orgy of violence is most often better than a long drawn out perpetual stalemate and siege.
  2. In an era of urbanization war is more likely to come down to city sieges. That is more likely to affect civilians. It is an outcome of demographic and technological shifts and not a constant and intentional policy by everyone with explosives who uses them.
  3. Targeting civilians can indeed meet strategic ends. If it does so and shortens the conflict in the process (think Sherman’s March here) it is actually justifiable on ethical grounds.

I could probably list more, but that does for now. I also like to remind fans of hashtag slacktivism that ‘never again’ was always a silly slogan. ‘We’ did nothing in Rwanda, a huge scandal to humanitarian warriors of the 90s and probably a big reason ‘we’ took such a hawkish line on Kosovo later. The problem is that in Rwanda, remarkable leadership, which began on the battlefield by local actors, caused the persecuted side to recapture the country, defeat their enemies, and set an an infinitely superior and more stable government in its place. In Kosovo, where intervention was touted as a success and a way forward (before the various calamities of the 21rst century would rightly tarnish its image) we have a mafia run pseudostate which gave to its Serb minority as bad as once was given by them, and which furnishes no insignificant amount of recruits to jihadist groups in the Middle East. So…the ‘we must do something’ mantra *must* be questioned given the uneven results it gives. Ironically, this is a position most likely to caution against military action-and one it seems only adhered to by those who have some knowledge of the military past. After all, the most effective intervention against a horror show regime in modern history was almost certainly Vietnam deposing the Khmer Rouge, but since it is not a liberal democracy initiating the action it gets ignored. It was also an operation launched with clear geostrategic objectives in mind on the part of Hanoi. Often times, to see a conflict you need to question the dominant narrative. That becomes easier to do when you study the long-forgotten conflicts of history, where one’s present temporal location makes them less partisan. You start to seek not who is right and wrong, but why some won and others lost. Those are lesson that apply to all times and all fights. They are lesson which are easy to overlook when one is only a partisan of the present. ‘(It’s the [current year]!!!!!’ comes from this lack of depth in perspective.

I also want to mention that other side to the hippy horror show descended from the postmodern hegemony: the neofacist right. The natural people who would attach themselves to identity politics were of course the perpetually (supposedly) victimized white identity types. It is often these types of people who fantasize about a world of strong virtuous men and their manly deeds. No homo. Often, you see these kinds of people latch on to superficial elements of military history in addition to their bad Roman Empire analogies. With these type of people now clearly in the cultural ascendant, we must not let the utility of military history be claimed by those incapable of using it intelligently. Plus, in most nearly equal fights far right governments overall tend to have pretty terrible military records. There is a difference between knowing how to draw an analogy from many periods of history of many different cultures and how context-centering that can be, and some goon who can cite multiple youtube videos and Cracked articles. Don’t cede this ground to such unworthies.

A new group of young people entering the worlds of civic service with a strong and global understanding of military history, coupled with other forms of history and political science, would be a fearsome and potentially wondrous thing to behold. In an age of complacent breakdown leading to a time of fear and retrenchment it is now, more than ever, that we must reclaim military history!

And on that note, a fair goodnight with a song to perturb the pacifist:

Meme War Does Not A Rising Power Make

russian-octopus

A Japanese take on the Russian Empire before the Russo-Japanese War.

Yes, I know, Fidel Castro died today. In many ways he was the ultimate trickster-figure of 20th Century International Relations and so it deserves mentioning on this blog. You will, no doubt, find many articles on him and his legacy today and in the near future so I feel no need to interrupt the upload of this post as it was originally conceived. Anyway:

From alleged interference in the U.S. election to  the obvious Russian preference for Donald Trump, Russia has factored more into American politics this year than at any point since the Cold War. It is kind of interesting that this is so now, as never before (excluding the Yeltsin era) has Russia been weaker compared to the United States. Sanctions imposed following the de facto invasion of Eastern Ukraine have been surprisingly effective against an economic model largely based on a few core resources and some oligarchs squatting-no doubt in track suits-upon the decaying remnants of once impressive Soviet infrastructure networks. The Democratic Party in particular seems to have absorbed fully the ghost of Joe McCarthy in its desperate attempts to fob off blame for its own abysmal performance. Whether their claims have merit or not (we simply do not yet know for sure), it is apparent that Russia is regarded as such a threat by segments of the American political class that a sane discussion on many foreign affairs is simply impossible to have with them. This also goes for many EUphoric chattering classes in the European Union, who above all fear the future of providing their own defense and having to play political hardball divorced from the Kantian platitudes they now internalize as part of their fundamental values.

Regardless of what Russia might have done in the election, and with cyber-espionage in general, I view these fears as massively exaggerated for a variety of reasons. In addition to the above-mentioned sorry state of Russia from an internal perspective, what we are really seeing here is the panic shown by people in America when they are forced to confront new and different tactics. Russia can no longer rely on ideological appeal or overwhelming conventional military power as it once did, so it has become a pioneer in two other fields, cyber warfare and faddish propaganda. It resembles less the Soviet Union than it does a type of meme-culture hipster who stays ‘ahead’ of the time by being on the avant-guard of witty if substance-free internet commentary. Kind of like an edgier version of J.K. Rowling’s twitter feed or a late night comedy show. Russia is merely the pioneer. Soon, every nation with technological capacity will be doing this. Already, the internet is a place of more disinformation than quality facts. This is why I always recommend that people stick to books, on the ground independent journalism, and academic and/or peer reviewed articles as the primary source of information in their lives. So much of the rest is really just rumor-mongering among various cliquish fads who live the postmodern dream of being able to construct their own hermetically sealed realities.

With less to lose than most powerful nations, Russia seeks to undermine consensus in established alliance networks. It cannot, however, fill the vacuum itself if successful, merely make others more insecure. Even with a chummy presidency in Trump, changing the head of the executive branch does not change America’s core interests or place at the top of the world stage. Trump will likely work with Putin in Syria-a position I have argued the U.S. should adopt for years. More dangerously, he might sell out eastern Ukraine for the sake of not caring about it/good relations with Russia. That would not be a position I would endorse as wise, but it still would not compromise fundamental U.S. interests. The real threat is the break up of the E.U., and even this would still not increase Russia’s influence in overall terms on the continent if Germany, France, and Britain (and a few likely others such as Poland) hung together in a defensive alliance. It is precisely to wound any such solidarity that Russia supports far right movements in western European nations. But, as with Trump, such people will (if victorious) inherit state apparatuses with certain interests that will prevent them from simply compromising their long term interest regarding other powers. The possible exception to this in a worst case scenario is France. Geography means France is not directly threatened by Russia and a powerful eastern ally against the center has often been the objective of historic French foreign policy. The Ottoman Empire was their ally in the renaissance and the Russians after the unification of Germany. This makes France the key to any issues of keeping western Europe stable and out of the Russian orbit, which means this is more a question for the E.U. itself than it is of Russia or America. If western nations can offer something positive rather than the simple Neo-McCarthyite rhetoric and complacent ‘stay the course’ talking points that the Democratic Party in America or the Remain campaign in Britain engaged in, the edgy hipster propaganda of Russia could actually be counteracted.

Perhaps the most important aspect of all of this, and the one most likely to somehow be *shocking news* to your average European liberal, is that Russia’s position in Europe is now no longer its sole concern. The temporary alliance of Russia and China simply cannot last forever as the Chinese make massive inroads of economic and political capital into once Russian dominated Central Asia. While Russian aid still tends to outstrip Chinese, and its military presence is very strong-particularly in Tajikistan-Chinese investments and trade have become the largest single potential factor in the region’s future. Something only likely to increase as the once bullish Kazakhstan begins to contract and Turkmenistan and Tajikistan continue to economically deteriorate. Uzbekistan, the most powerful and independent of the regional states, has long since courted China as a counter-balance to Russia. Only Kyrgyzstan seems firm in resisting Chinese expansion, something which could change. Also important is Russia’s reliance on being an arms exporter. It has no larger single-state market than India. India and China are basically guaranteed rivals due to Chinese chumminess with Pakistan and long simmering territorial disputes. Therefore, unless Moscow is willing to basically surrender many of its dominant diplomatic positions in Central Asia and weaken its relationship in India, it will simply not be able to become a hegemonic power in Europe, much less the world. Even the current (and quite clever) Moscow-Ankara detente is a short term arrangement that overlooked widely divergent objectives to the countries involved-particularly in the Caucuses.

None of this is to say that Russia has not carved out an interesting and potentially exploitable niche for itself-it certainly has. But it is one of many major powers in the world system. Its tactical innovations may be shocking to some now but as with all tactics they can be copied and refined. The overall geopolitical context from which Moscow operates remains, for now, unchanged. What we should perhaps be more concerned with is that other nation’s leadership might copy its internal method of rule by appeal to romantic nationalism, and that ball is entirely in the court of each countries’ domestic politics rather than a neckbearded self-proclaimed expert in Meme War in a St Petersburg basement. It is domestic elites seeing value in the model of the oligarch-mafia state that is the real threat, not the fact that inevitably someone was going to weaponize the internet’s habit of indulging the confirmation bias of low-information voters.

 

 

 

The Twilight of Liberalism Zone

Rod Serling Voice:

‘Imagine, if you will, a world where all presidents ever had been female. But then one day a male presidential candidate comes along…his name is Joe Lieberman. He is running against a dangerous demagouge named Sarah Palin. A coalition of intelligent and thoughtful men and women capable of structural analysis point out that this is a terrible candidate, and even if they win they might set back the very cause of gender equality through promised bad policies with no popular appeal. A horde of neckbeards and bros descend to accuse everyone reluctant to support Lieberman of blatant sexism and dismiss all of their concerns. Sure, some people are sexist to Lieberman, but this hardly invalidates other more cogent criticisms-indeed criticisms of Lieberman’s positions on substantive issues like foreign policy and the surveillance state are shouted down as being nothing but fear of his gender.. The neckbeards, upon their loss, retreat into their own bubble-world safe space where they blame ‘misandry’ for their loss and petulantly lock themselves in a dark room to listen to Evanescence and watch Dragonball Z.

You have just crossed over into The Twilight of Liberalism Zone’

Politics is Not a Safe Space: Neoliberalism and the Electoral Race to the Bottom

 

Poverty Rates in Appalachia, 2007–2011

Outside of self-imposed social media bubbles, history is not progressive like technology. While the march of technology changes how societies evolve in ways that no two eras are ever really the same, the cycle of the rise and fall of governments, regions, and classes continues with a somewhat random yet patterned process not dissimilar to biological evolution-itself not a progressive process in any demonstrable way. When I first reached adulthood and began to study history at the college level this was a harsh lesson to learn. In America and other countries like it we are fed a steady diet of individualism and liberal idealism from an early age. We want to believe, as the Puritans once did before they consumed themselves and burned out as a culture, that  we are at the forefront of a new era. We want to think history can be guided in such a way as to be manageable for everyone. This ignores that politics would not exist if convergent interests greatly outnumbered divergent interests. Most importantly, it ignores Ibn Khaldun‘s most prescient observation: that complacency breeds decline, that the losers of history often deserve to lose, and that the winners of today are the losers of tomorrow. It is the very act of winning that can be the most dangerous thing of all.

The Democratic Party at the national level became this complacent ruling elite, even while they kept losing house seats and state governorships. They had a bland faith in demographics and this restricted their campaigning only to certain swing state’s suburban enclaves. This strategy cost them an election they probably should have won. Women were assumed to be a safe bet, but white women ended up favoring Trump. Minorities were expected to just show up out of a sense of obligation and duty to a party that does not overtly hate them, Bill’s mass incarceration and drug wars and Hill’s ‘superpredators’ aside. The threat of Trump was supposed to keep the Obama coalition together. But the Obama coalition was first forged in a democratic primary against the Clintonian status quo. Even eight years later, it could not so easily flip to supporting that. Clinton did worse with all minority groups than Obama did, Trump did better than Romney with them. This is a massive failure on behalf of the Democratic Party.

The seeds of this failure were sown by Clinton. Not Hillary, but Bill. When Ronald Reagan became the first partially neoliberal president and Thatcher rose to power in the UK the mantra to their deregulation and free trade deals was ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA). The defeated left of center parties took heed and decided two could play this game. This led to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Clinton would soon outstrip Reagan in his zeal to adopt the newest faddish ideas of governance of the post-Cold War era. The new Democratic Party was a party of globalized cities, and while big coastal regions thrived due to a complex combination of factors not necessarily related to these policies (Chinese growth, the arrival of the internet, etc) the rural areas of the country were written off as irrelevant to the future. Abandoned, left to rot, and with the government slashing domestic budgets for infrastructure and welfare, places like Appalachia withered on the vine. They were sacrificed on the altar of neoliberalism by a two party system in thrall to it. And nowhere was the betrayal bigger than Bill Clinton’s policy record. If you need proof, look at electoral maps from 92 and 96 then compare to 2000. So many states that backed Clinton against the Reagan-Bush consensus went to Bush Junior once Bill’s terms were up. Meanwhile, people took ‘thinkers’ such as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman seriously despite the blatantly historically ignorant Kantianism they peddled about the end of history. History, however, has a nasty habit of never ending. This ideology was remarkably self-congratulating to the ruling class and their middle class henchmen in large cities, most of whom were liberals. It told them that the values they had been raised with were fundamentally correct, and that by living those values they were making a positive difference in the world, and that by merely thinking the right thoughts and using the right language they could make the world a better place. It may only now be becoming apparent to most of those people that this was delusion, but I have to say, I always saw this as delusion. So did others, but those others were shouted down consistently as being ‘unreasonable’ or ‘not serious’ or ‘not with the times.’

Had Dubya not had the good fortune to be president during the most massive terrorist attack in American history he likely would have been a single term president. He was able to use security issues to further ramp up the neoliberal drive which was now securitized. When asked during the surge of patriotism after 9/11 what the average American should do, the Bush administration responded with ‘go shopping.’ Civic responsibility was sought by the people only to be met with more market fundamentalism. The vagaries of a supposedly logical global market was not only now in charge of domestic policy-it ran foreign policy as well. Here the strains and cracks in the edifice really began to show. The blithe predictions for Iraq bore bitter and contradictory fruit. The war itself became so toxic it cost Hillary Clinton the democratic nomination, rightfully, and the Republicans the general election, also rightfully.

Obama ended the most odious influence of the evangelicals on domestic policy and reigned in (though did not significantly reduce) the neoliberal/neoconservative drive on foreign affairs, but while he did not accelerate the objectives of neoliberalism at home, he did absolutely nothing to stop them. He failed to undo enough of the odious Bush legacy but ironically was able to scale back many worst excesses of Clinton era policies such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, The Defense of Marriage Act, the fever pitch of the War on Drugs, and the massive deregulation of speculating financiers. Even the affordable care act, which I admit I have directly benefited from, was really a gift to insurance companies and further entrenched the for profit civics model this country has adopted since the 80s.

Appalachia, non-farming rural enclaves of the midwest and south, and significant chunks of remote regions continued to suffer and be neglected. Rather than appeal to these people who obviously have nothing to gain from Republican theories of governance, the Democrats wrote them off as irrelevant and cast blame on them for supporting many of the policies the democratic party itself once espoused. Obama won by getting people in Florida and Ohio to recognize the horror of Bushism, but all the while the Democratic Party did nothing to substantively address many of those concerns. And yet it expected, if not demanded, people vote for them anyway. Worse still was their liberal minions outside of the party who assumed that what was good for New York City (where both campaigns and most mainline media were headquartered, it should be noted) was good for the country. They also assumed that the neoliberal consensus and the bland liberal language it used for legitimacy was not the problem-just who managed this consensus was. For a decade I have tried to convince people this was not so, and I and many people far more famous than I failed utterly in the face of this delusional alternate reality by the 21st Century bourgeoisie. We warned, correctly, that if a smart alternative to this hegemony was not presented than a dumb reactionary one would be. Trump is a new Obama, electorally speaking. He built a coalition of those dissatisfied and in so doing showed the fragility and unpopularity of the status quo.

Is this to discount the role racism and possibly sexism plays in these regions? No. And it is precisely those factors that made it important to control the backlash against the bipartisan financial interests in America. Having failed to take heed from the more observant people on the left and even the occasional clever paleocon, the liberals and centrists sowed the seeds of their own destruction. The best they could hope for was meliorist Clintonite ‘triangulation’, and this became increasingly unappealing to everyone. As it is, identity politics has clearly failed. The world is not a safe space, and a bunch of liberal theorists ignoring actual material and structural issues, writing off class or in fact actively being classist (especially towards people who do not live in cities) is an ideology for the complacent and lazy and nothing more. This is further shown by the fact that these people only get fired up about the presidency and never really bother with midterms. It is a testament to the intellectual bankruptcy and irrelevancy of 21st century liberalism that people sharing JK Rowling quotes and suggesting *all* opposition to them must be rooted in prejudice of some personal identity is assumed to be ‘woke’ and that the solution to this is some sort of vague ‘awareness’ and moralistic posturing. The fact is, liberals are not intellectually superior to conservatives and they never really were. I may find them personally somewhat more palatable largely due to social issues, but I see both of them as deeply complacent ideologies that avoid critical thinking in favor of sounding righteous and upholding some form of doctrinal status quo. People arguing for political discourse on college campuses to be made as safe as their parents suburban mcmansion are not people talking about real issues that impact people in real physical space. People who do not have the privilege of being perpetually outraged by the casting of movies or a dumb joke because they struggle to survive are not won over by this middle class fatuousness. Navel-gazing is for those who prioritize their personal feelings and the liberal concept of individualism and virtue signaling becomes a form of self-branding regarded as superior to civic responsibility. Worst of all, and as I once warned, this tip to identity politics was inevitably going to picked up by the other side, the side who deals in overt race baiting. This has been my fear ever since I first learned of politics via identity back in college. Liberals cannot castigate rural whites for being identity voters when they so clearly opened that door of political acceptability for them. Like imitates like, and under neoliberalism they both spiral down together in a race for the basest form to turn out the largest amount of famously ignorant undecided voters. It is, after all, the logic of free market capitalism that one’s civic duty exists for purposes of self-fulfillment. This is an ideological point no other successful society has ever engaged in, probably because it is blatantly untrue.

What is most insufferable is the liberal pretense to great wisdom merely by *not* being conservative. It is a low standard, and when you set such low standards it drags both sides down. Much in the same way that Clintonism made the Democratic Party abandon the working class and its union core for faddish ideology and therefore lost much of its traditional support. The SensibleSerious consensus creates a large swath of disaffected voters with nothing to lose. Both parties, working together, made this happen. Both parties, in their own way, will suffer for it. So will the country at-large, who had much less say the implementation of these policies.

And that brings us to the centrists, a group of people who I have previously made my feelings of intense disdain quite clear. Since Bill Clinton, the liberals have basically meshed with the center with the partial exception of immediately after 9/11. But the center is a place of laziness which always represents the current status quo-and these days that status quo is an ecological and regional destroying neoliberalism. Now, back in Bill’s day this was a new thing worth giving a shot, but no longer. It is dead. Even if you support it, you must acknowledge that. Brexit and Greece were merely the precursors. Want electoral proof? In all the post-Bill presidential elections the candidate who was a less doctrinaire neoliberal won over the one who was more. Or to be more specific, centrists always lose in the 21st Century. Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney, Clinton (II): all the more traditionally centrist candidates. Centrism isn’t just intellectually sloppy, its a recipe for losing as well. No one likes centrists, and given their record in this century, no one should. In primaries this was especially obvious. Hillary Clinton’s perpetual running on the presidency and career as a milquetoast senator striking unsustainable bargains with a loathed two party system smacks of Henry Clay, a historical figure no one admires any more nor wishes to emulate. The democratic party itself reminds me of the Whigs-an unstable coalition that devours opposition movements with actual ideas in order to present a bland front against the party that holds the initiative.

There is a final key to Trump’s victory people might talk about later but haven’t so far that I have seen: endorsements hurt and castigation helps, *especially* from the media. The late night comedians which were so entertaining and good at poking holes in the paranoid post-9/11 consensus did not keep their credit as those who speak truth to power, but rather became establishment cheerleaders. They sacrificed their vital role as the opposition for one of a deeply partisan cheerleader. As these various talk show hosts and actors lined up to condescendingly urge people to vote for the democrats they unintentionally aided the narrative that the media was all for Clinton, that the ruling classes controlled everything to get the result they wanted. It is B.S. of course, plenty of the ruling class supports Trump and he has no trouble attracting upper income voters. But the comedian/actor axis made it an obnoxious reality that people in affluent cities wanted something, and considering their previous track record on what they want and how those policies effect other parts of the country. If one wanted to, say, ‘Make Comedy Great Again’ it should go after the entire system, not just one half of its Janus-face.

America does not deserve Trump as a whole, but liberals and conservatives do, and neoliberals especially. They made him by creating the conditions for his rise. If history is a guide however I do not expect them to learn this lesson as they never have before. Instead, they will lash out at everyone they can to avoid taking personal responsibility. They will fail to recognize that it was their candidate’s record, not her gender (though it likely played a subsidiary role), that was the primary reason for her loss. They will probably blame minorities for not showing up to vote, rather than themselves for not giving much of a reason for said minorities to vote as they had before. The smug condescension of Manhattan and Los Angeles returns to its traditional role as reflexive defense mechanism. People like me who saw the dangers lurking in this neoliberal system will be the ones they will blame for their own failures. I cannot count the amount of times that I personally got talked down to on issues involving minorities by people who are entirely white, affluent,  and straight. I am none of those things. I fear what might happen in a Trump presidency as much if not more than these people-but this did not happen in a vacuum and it was the liberals who were at least half of the enablers.

But this potential for at least intellectual and grassroots organizational upheaval will be surrendered and sacrificed to the right alone if major changes are not made to the dark and desperate future of having Henry Clay liberals be the primary opposition. Ironically it is the America-First candidate who has destroyed the myths of American Exceptionalism once and for all by making our right wing so blatantly European. That honesty could at least free up all sides to be more intellectually rigorous, not just one. But that requires looking beyond the consensus of the SensibleSerious™.

FOREIGN POLICY:

American elections are important to everyone, so it was worth talking about on this blog. But this is a primarily foreign policy blog and so we should now deal specifically with foreign policy issues. This is no mean task given the many contradictory statements Trump has made.

The most important and concerning thing is the cavalier attitude Trump has regarding Asia-Pacific relations. The most important countries in the world for U.S. interests are in that region and the second and third largest economies also dwell there. Hyper-nationalism and territorial disputes are legion. And no matter what the British say, the U.S.-Japan Security Agreement is the world’s most important and stable alliance. It comes closer to the bedrock of global stability than any other bilateral relationship. It is also unique in modern history for bringing together two countries which are so globally powerful for so long. Trump has been openly dismissive of this alliance, asking why the Japanese do not pay for themselves, when in fact they have been quite good at doing so. In fact, Japan payed most of the expenses of the first Persian Gulf War.

The status of this alliance is the most concerning foreign policy issue of a Trump presidency. Coupled with a trade-tariff war with China it could be a recipe for disaster. One fear I can at least tone down, however, is that of Japan acquiring a stronger and more autonomous defense. This has been in the workings for almost a decade. A great power can only be governed like a banana republic for so long. For obvious historical reasons Japan may prove more reticent to acquire a nuclear deterrent, but I do not believe it would be inherently destabilizing if it did so. Still, the alliance should be maintained.

In China, Xi Jinping is a far more intelligent leader than either Clinton or Trump, but especially Trump. It remains to be seen what opportunities this might open up to to the PRC, if any.

Europe represents opportunity in equal parts to danger. A vast over-estimation of Russia’s conventional capabilities due to a few flashy brushfire victories over smaller armies in remote theaters often guides American grand strategy, but Russia probably could be contained so long as Germany, France, and Poland stick together. Especially so if the UK stays with them, but that is less certain as we see how Brexit shapes up. The most likely reason Putin wants Trump is not some childish liberal conspiracy theory of Manchurian candidacy but rather because he expects he can run circles around him at the negotiating table. It is ever so slightly possible that some kind of mutual bargain could be struck between the two Bros-in-Chief.

The one decided potential benefit here is that Trump will probably be better than Clinton in the Middle East and possibly Africa as well. Gone will be the tone of the preaching humanitarian racist that has bungled US policy towards Africa for decades and driven important countries into the arms of the Chinese. The expansion of AFRICOM might get a more critical eye-though that remains a big maybe. Most importantly, the odds we will attack the government of Syria have gone from somewhere around say 70% under Clinton to about nil now. This is the only true demonstrable gain I can see from this election in either foreign or domestic policy for the average person-but it is (potentially) a gain. One of the few issues that Trump was consistently right on was the need to go after ISIS alone and not fight 3 sided conflicts where our intervention is not needed. Considering how utterly disastrous, deadly, and expensive 21st Century regime change policies from Iraq to Libya have been, with unintended consequences of causing surges in terrorist attacks (which in turn fuel the far right) this could be a truly concrete benefit not only for foreign policy people like me of the realist persuasion but in breaking up the neocon establishment in DC proper.

So us geostrategists have to be even more wary than usual in the near future. Uncertainty is high. But there is hope for some new ideas and a re-orientation of a neoliberal hegemony quite long in the tooth to keep representing U.S. (and others) strategic interests. That vague hope does not, however, allay my fears for various minority communities in this new era. But as there was a big backlash to Bushism on social issues that ended up winning the argument far more effectively than Democratic meliorism would have, so too that fight should never be given up. Let this be the shock to renew it with vigor rather than simply wait for the mythical liberal fairy tale of ‘inevitable progress’ to happen. Those of us against the rising global tide of reactionary identity politics can have a bright future indeed if they reject neoliberalism, complacent cosmopolitanism, ‘woke’ classisism, and the other faith based homilies that got them in this mess in the first place.

Completely Off Topic Revelation

I am sorry for this. I do try to keep the blog on topic, even if sometimes I stretch it, but I just realized something that was simply too good not to post for posterity. It is a theory about annoying television commercials.

Here is the theory: 10-15 years ago a bunch of not-so talented art kids became film majors because they were really into Wes Anderson/Zach Braff/MPDG/faux art house twaddle with yellow box-segmented posters, and imagined in the future promised to them by their special-snowflakitude would enable this to happen. However, the economy tanked and QuirkyTwee was rightly acknowledged by anyone with taste to be insufferable hackery.

So what did all these rejected artists do? They made commercials.

And that is where the all the annoying commercials with ukuleles and whistling come from. Also the background music for annoying clickbait viral videos about people with man-buns trying new foods in front of a camera.

See, historical context does matter for understanding things that happen in the present!

So Far, Only North America is a World-Island

north_a_satellite_orth_nasa

I always had two historical loves which won out over all the others. Sure, there isn’t a time and place I can’t not find interesting or even devote significant amount of time to reading up on, but my true loves that beat all the others are Eurasian nomads and Native American studies. So it has been since my teens, and remains so to this day. Just today I realized a concept I learned in the study of one might make more sense applied to the other.

When I made the transition into International Relations I became aware of geopolitics. There was a lot to disagree with as well as agree with and parsing through the gems from the coal became one of the purposes of this very blog. Even the founding article of the field, Mackinder’s ‘The Geographic Pivot of History’, is so full of holes a knowledgeable person can leap through with space to spare. But this first halting step did create new and interesting discussions in policy circles back in its original context of rampant Russophobia in Britain and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and Russo-Japanese War which was occurring at the time of its publication. Though that war would show that the Romanov Dynasty had feet made of clay and that Germany was Britain’s true rival, the core thesis had one very stark and obvious insight: that Eurasia was rich in population and resources and the closest thing we have to a super-continent right now. Thus if one power could dominate it, it would truly be unstoppable and quite possibly unassailable. If anything, Soviet defense in depth and being able to shuffle resources back and forth from frontiers with Germany and Japan in response to changing circumstances lent the theory some real world credit in the Second World War. It certainly interested Cold War strategists in the NATO world.

Nowadays, it has spawned a quite bizarre, almost theosophist-mystic form of geopolitics in Russia. Alexander Dugin, a kind of Blavatsky-Evola-Rasputin hybrid creature, waxes poetically about Russia’s need to directly annex a variety of countries and regions and apply them to some kind of fascistic definition of Eurasian solidarity that would have made the tolerant and flexible Mongols he claims to idolize sneer in contempt. But that is a different subject from this post. Brzezinski’s book ‘The Grand Chessboard’ shows the American take on the subject is still here as well. The point is, whether for good or ill, World-Island Theory (the term for Eurasia’s central role in geopolitics) is still strong. And while I hold the central observation of Eurasia’s massive importance to be largely correct, I dispute that it has yet to achieve its potential. North America, on the other hand, already has.

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In a great irony of prehistory, the horse, which first evolved in North America, would end up going extinct there while the Eurasian migrated branches of the species would survive, thrive, and go on to play such an important role in human history. The Americas, by and large, are severely lacking in indigenous domesticated animals which can be put to human use. Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ and Charles Mann’s book ‘1491’ goes further into detail into the science behind this observation, as do many other works. The point is, lack of such beasts hampered both mobility and disease resistance, as this is mostly acquired through close contact by living with domestic animals. As it was, when horses returned they quickly went wild, almost as coming home. The Plains tribes rose to a massive gain of power projection and living standards practically overnight in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries due in no small part to these creatures. All this despite already have suffered through waves of depopulating plagues. By that point it was too late to undo the effect of thousands of years of their absence, but the rise of the Comanche Empire, which would humiliate the frontiers of New Spain and then Mexico for over a century despite a calamitous demographic situation for the Native population speaks volumes.

Imagine, if you will, a world where horses never died out in the Americas before being reintroduced by the Spanish.The percentage of the land taken up by the Great Plains is far larger, proportionally, than the great Eurasian Steppe, where the nomadic people there did so much to spread trade and technology from one end of the land mass to the other. One suspects it would be a realm of large empires and thriving trade cities connecting the eastern forest and river peoples to groups far further afield than they otherwise would have direct contact with, such as the Tlingit, Haida, and other Pacific Northwest peoples who had probably the highest living standards of the pre-industrial world and (possibly) a few tenuous trade links to Asia. The greater effort of technology and commerce travelling north-south as opposed to east-west (due to more shifting climate zones) could be overridden by the massive interconnectedness of the Great Plains under nomadic empires. As it was, even with the tragic and utterly unnecessary genocide and driving to the periphery of the Native peoples of North America, a small collection of fractious colonies on the eastern seaboards of both the US and Canada would find a rapid expansion followed by an intense interconnections of resources and peoples-first through rail and then through interstate highways. Now, cheap domestic flight seals the deal.

As with all things geopolitics, this is not permanent. It is the interplay of social sciences with the physicality of geoscience and geography that really make the discipline when it is being thorough. One dominant state in the center of the landmass with cordial relations with its two neighbors is not a permanent situation…but it is so far the most ideal conjunction of forces for the wielding of great power politics on a global scale than has ever so far existed. Control of the North American world-island means the security to build bases and dominate trade routes around the entire planet. The British had no defense beyond their navy in a multi-polar Europe, the Mongols were a small minority who ruled with a relatively light hand, and the Spanish came into such a glut of wealth they suffered hyperinflation and became prey for other countries’ pirates. So far, out of this group, only the United States has equaled if not surpassed the Mongolian geopolitical achievement.

Good North American strategists see that it is the ocean that is both the highway and the fortification protecting this remarkably secure and wealthy apparatus from Arctic to Panama Canal, bad ones overextend themselves dangerously into Eurasia and Africa. For North America (specifically the United States as the core of this order) to re-learn the strategy it has lost through smug complacency since the fall of the USSR, some kind of American Maritime Focused Hadrian figure is necessary. Right now there is no such thing in the running for leadership…though Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard points to a distinct possibility for the future.

It seems such a waste for such a conjunction of positive forces to be squandered on nation building outside of core maritime connections. Not to mention the human cost of many of these ill-fought out interventions. Perhaps in the future I can write a post about what allies are actually critical to the American edifice. North American geopolitical thinkers also need not fear about Eurasian unification, it is much larger, much more divided (both geographically and culturally) and could only be unified under circumstances that do not presently nor could foreseeably exist in the near future. Eurasia, in the end, is actually a super-continent build for balance-of-power politics, not so much hegemony. After all, when various Chinese dynasties were the leading scientific and technological forces of the world, they still could not meaningfully exert this dominance too far afield. So long as powerful maritime states exist outside of Eurasia, they cannot make such an attempt in the future. The large populations of South Asia and East Asia are not coming together anytime soon, and even a demographically challenged Russia is still playing the game. And even a Eurasia-dominating empire would no longer necessarily be able to overtake a stable North America that retains its decisive role in South America. The cumulative sea-surrounded landmass of the Americas, no longer as hampered by climactic variation and choke-points as it once was, could verily be the real super-continent for strategist of the future to ponder on.

None of this is to say that North America will never split apart. The Washington DC hegemony splintering or becoming a Byzantine rump state is always a possibility, causing the political geography of North America itself to create its own states in the Northeast, Appalachia, Southeast, Plains, Rockies, and northern and southern West Coasts-to say nothing of Quebec, Mayan populated parts of Mexico, and all the many other possible conjunctions. States are like people, they have various and finite lifespans. And like the super-continent cycle itself, division and unification of landmasses under specific rule comes and goes from one to the other. This should make it all the more important that strategists in Washington, Ottawa, and Mexico City make the most of what they have now and not through it away on an altar of faddish economic and political theories which exist to self-congratulate the ruling class. The present order of world affairs is not a product of such forces, but rather of smart strategy applied to fortuitous geography. A world-island, if you can keep it.

Aleppo is the new Kony2012, or Against ‘Awareness’

machiavelli-offended

You have seen the tragic photographs from Syria, though if you primarily get your news from television you probably only see the ones from rebel held areas. This gives you feelings, as it should if you are not a sociopath. It does not give you context, and it does not give you knowledge to make meaningful determinations on the conflict on its own right.

In 2012 I was an academic working towards a doctorate in International Relations. Most people are apathetic on foreign affairs, which is fine, so long as they do not vote based on this apathy. Usually, they did not. Then suddenly we were bombarded with desperate cries of ‘Kony! He has a child army! We have to do something!’ These cries, and the breifly famous documentary (partly made by evangelicals, it should be noted) contained blatant context-free arguments and even built up a threat that was long out of date into some kind of fashionable cause. This is the difference between ‘Awareness’, as it is commonly called, or perhaps being ‘woke’, and actual knowledge. Knowledge requires research, going deep, understanding structural issues and context. Knowledge is hard but rewarding, Awareness is easy and shallow.
Anyway, yesterday Gary Johnson made a legitimate ass out of himself by not knowing what Aleppo was. No dispute there. A serious knowledge fail. One I will not defend nor should even really be defended. But it has become a major rallying point by SensibleSerious™ types to defend the validity of their increasingly death spiral-ing two party system. You know, the political system that perpetuates massive levels of divisive ignorance in the first place. This, I find, to be as much as exercise in ignorance as Johnson’s lack of current event understanding.
 
Gaffes like these act as an excuse for those who fancy themselves informed but often are in fact anything but to crow on about something they themselves know practically nothing about save ‘bad things happen there and golly gosh we should do something so I can feel better’. It is an attempt to paper over the cracks in the facade they have built about being informed. Because it is not knowledge that these people prize but rather the *pretense of knowledge*. The much vaunted value of ‘awareness’ is merely a means of paying lip service to a concept without doing the actual work to understand it. But outside of name-dropping their knowledge base this is no better than Gary Johnson on anything requiring facts, context, or more than a superficial understanding. Effectively, it is the collection of a vocabulary for the sake of appearances in snarky tweets or cocktail parties, not the acquisition of knowledge. It is the acquisition of pretense of knowledge alone and nothing more.
And in this regard, Johnson is actually superior to many of his critics. He did not duck or dodge around the issue, he flat out acknowledged he had no idea and asked about it. For a politician in America that is actually commendable. Meanwhile, in order to explain it to him the news media which supposedly prizes itself on global affairs knowledge, made itself look like even a bigger ass than Johnson in attempting to explain what Aleppo actually was.
 
I have followed the Syrian Civil War since its inception. I am informed of the various actors and alliances. I have knowledge, not ‘awareness’ and analysis and research, not just feelings. The major party candidates may be ‘aware’ about Syria but both have actively terrible plans they would execute regarding it.And let me state this bluntly to Bill Maher watching New York Times op-ed reading bien-pensants: I can criticize Johnson’s ignorance…but you can’t. Your superficial awareness isn’t part of the solution, its part of the problem.  It might even be better if you stopped being ‘aware’ and stuck only to topics you were willing to actually engage with beyond talking points. To engage with no knowledge is worse than not engaging at all. Look at how congress voted in the run up to the Iraq War on the promises of faulty intelligence. For many, not engaging at all may in fact be the best case scenario. For all of us, in fact.
Perhaps what our society needs is less of this awareness, not more.