MAGAMaidan vs Patriot Act 2.0

Leon Czolgosz assassinates President McKinnley. These days we just make fun of him for his name.

It doesn’t come up very often on here because its not one of my primary interests personally or professionally, but a major part of my work back when I was at the U.S. Department of State was the study of and working around issues related to violent extremism and the countering thereof. Specifically, I was tasked with using the history and cultural understandings of political theory that existed in the Central Asian region to come up with more constructive ways of combatting extremist groups recruitment strategies than simple state repression. The reason for this was that finally, over a decade after 9/11, people were coming around to the idea that the ‘cure’ to an extremism problem can often be just as bad as the disease.

The United States may have started to learn this lesson for other countries, but I don’t thing it has learned it for itself. Indeed, given the present media climate, I expect that any attempts to understand and diagnose the Miller Lite Militia’s storming of Capitol Hill will be met with the same kind of anti-thought rhetoric we saw immediately after 9/11. ‘How dare you sympathize with these people?’ Etc. Of course, never once in my entire life have I sympathized with Islamists (or republicans). In fact, I loathe them so much that when forced into a binary between corrupt and oppressive state security vs Islamists I always go with state security. I even hosted an extra-haram food themed BBQ party the day Osama Bin Laden was killed in celebration of the event. He deserved his comeuppance, but not at the cost of the polices enacted in response to his attacks. I would prefer societies not have to degenerate to that point in the first place if we can help it. And if it does we can still punish our worst assailants without giving way to cowardice by signing away our rights. It is a common tactic of governments everywhere to force a security state vs extremist Manichean binary as it will more easily enable them to divide and crush opposition. So too are we going to see this here now more than before. It would be best to inject some nuance in now before the opportunity is lost, or as, in the case of 9/11, only comes over a decade later after all the damage has been done.

I don’t really want to talk about MAGAMaidan itself as numerous takes on it can be found elsewhere. I will only point out that Trump is a moron and incited his followers to go to the capitol, but, as can clearly be seen by his immediate backing down and chickening out, did not in fact plan on the capitol police failing so epically and actually letting them storm into the place. This confirms my long held suspicion that everything he does it meant to boost his next reality show/talk show media career, which indeed is why he ran for president in the first place. The fact that they made it that far was as unplanned as the failure of the capitol’s security forces. Now this, and other antics, have helped cost his party the senate, possibly the next mid term election, and probably any attempts of his to run again for the presidency. He even finally conceded. A coup this was not. Trust not any historically illiterate dweller of frantic jazz laden NPR echo chambers who uses that word. A botched putsch? Maybe. A riot? Definitely. Everyone involved should be punished. If you want the best take I have seen which I could not surpass, check out Sam Kriss‘. But realize that Trump’s Twitter being taken away is probably the funniest and most punishing thing its possible to do to him.

Q Anon people have a lot of similarities with the kind of disaffected losers who get swept up into Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and thus do in fact present a security challenge. They believe their miseries are often caused by the government and elites (true) but invent elaborate self-flattering conspiracies to avoid having to understand structural forces so they can focus instead of simplistic moralism and clear good guy/bad guy narratives. Their groups need to be investigated and at their worst thwarted, but are rarely worth restructuring society and our civil rights around doing so. Such people are responding to serious grievances in unserious ways. Islamists, for instance, thrive in societies that limit acceptable expression so severely that the only socially sanctioned way to get out of mandatory loyalty is to join the clergy.

Already the monotonous blob of elite identifying media/academic/government worker groupthink is treating this as their very own Lanyard 9/11 and Reichstag fire in one, even though four people died, three of them chuds, and seems so far to be one grand gesture of self-sabotage. One of the fatalities accidentally tazered themselves and had a heart attack which is just….so the entire event in microcosm. It isn’t even the 1954 shooting attack on the capitol when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on congressmen on the house floor (showing that this has indeed happened before). But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is a new 9/11. Do you think our response to 9/11 was a good one? Do you think the Patriot Act and unchecked NSA surveillance was a good thing for the country? Do you think the culture of paranoia, warmongering, and xenophobia that descended in waves on this country was worth ‘bringing us together’ for a grand total of two years was worth it? Post-Cold War history has no lesson stronger than that Bipartisan Consensus is more often to be feared than embraced so long as these leadership cliques are in charge.

Here is what will most likely happen: the already existing pro censorship positions of many liberals, journalists, and many of the dumber leftists will accelerate to new heights. The FBI’s record of entrapping the dumber Muslim teenagers into fake bombing plots in order to drive up their terrorism prevention stats will be partially redirected towards white and right wing teenagers. Being conservative in a non-Brett Stephens approved way in any capacity will be conflated with ‘white supremacy’, because, as we know, Americans are incapable of imagining politics outside of a very narrow and parochial framework, and ‘incitement to violence’ will take on new meanings (that will somehow never include the calls of politicians to bomb and sanction small and weak nations abroad, of course).

To see this coming is not to take the side of MAGA any more than to have a nuanced view of the Patriot Act after 9/11 was to take the side of Al Qaeda. One can in fact have multiple different enemies at the same time. But the currently dominant trends in our society are not as much that of Trump’s bizarre and incoherent cult of personality, but rather a Silicon Valley neofedualism that has opportunistically adopted the rhetoric of left wing culture warriors and the priorities of the centrist security state. Both are threats, but one is far better poised to effect our immediate future. And if people who are not right wing already give up and roll over for this binary, then they will be the first to be shut out of relevance as the only valid opposition to our new dystopia is (incorrectly) rewritten to be MAGAMaidan. We already saw this process beginning before the clown car of reactionary ‘revolutionaries’ stormed the capitol when factually correct allegations about Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine were softly excluded from major media narratives despite their merit as a story. We have seen it in the career trajectories of threatened journalists seeing gatekeeping as the only way to hold on to their positions, voluntarily becoming like the media is forced to be in countries like Russia.

Political instability and even violence is not abnormal in America, it is all too normal. Four sitting presidents have been assassinated. A senator once assaulted and crippled a colleague in the capitol building. There were anarchist bomb throwers and the Battle of Blair Mountain. There was the militia movements of the 1990s and the Oklahoma City bombing. There was the aforementioned shooting of the capitol building itself in 50s. There were the riots than spun out of the George Floyd protests this summer. And this is to say nothing of how frequent protests that degenerate into riots are in other countries, including developed ones. France has them more often, and has a somewhat higher standard of living for its average citizens too. Did all of these events necessitate an expansion of the security state? No. In many cases there was no such thing at all. Tragedies happen, you seek out egregious perpetrators for punishment, then people move on.

As a friend of mine said recently when we were discussing how MAGA and the liberal establishment share common assumptions about the religion of American Exceptionalism and setting them above and beyond the forces of history, ‘This country has a lot of growing up to do all across the ideological spectrum.’ It certainly does. The people who stormed the capitol have no coherent ideology but that they live in this world and they don’t like it. They see one incredibly dumb and opportunistic man as their salvation. They see the world as children. Their partisan opposite has more fancy words to hide behind but is deeply invested in maintaining the rhetoric of setting their views above those of others not by historical fact but by theoretical assumption that the dominant ideology of our society evolves us out of the chaos of unplanned for events. This too is childish, if less overtly so.

To grow up, Americans could start by learning the real lesson of 9/11…that to give in to the temptations of censorious security state expansion for dramatic outlier events is one of the worst things you can do. You can hold people accountable and punish criminals without making life worse for everyone who isn’t a criminal. ‘Blame fundamentalists, not all Muslims’ was a common cry among liberals in the Bush years. Can they be made receptive to hearing it again in a more domestic context or do they now want their turn playing Cheney? As happened with extraordinary rendition and military surplus feeding police militarization, the War on Terror’s true legacy was that its effects will always be coming home to roost. I fear that the censorious scolds of the media and administrative classes will lead the way to continue this trend.

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

jihadjohnmccain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Two Reluctant Cheers for Authority

hadrian

In today’s discourse you will almost never come across someone self-identifying as ‘authoritarian.’ In fact, the word seems merely to exist as a straw man for half baked and childish libertarian ‘political tests’ which are superficial and designed to make literally everyone on the planet think they are secretly libertarian. Of course, my own test based on the same axis is much better as it captures the essence of everyone and everything in all times and places which ever once had a political opinion of any kind.

But maybe the term authoritarian requires at least a partial resurrection. Coming off of the heels of a century of unprecedented state-directed terror this may seem odd, but that was also then, and this is now. As John Gray so accurately points out in The New Statesman, it is the stateless parts of the world which are the problems now more than the overly-governed.

This is not to say we need an overreaction which apologizes for the excesses of the NSA or admires the more terrifyingly over-regimented societies on the planet. As Gray reminds us, this is not a question of good and evil and freedom versus slavery. All political stances are in fact the decision of who to regulate and who not to, rather than some simplistic quest for freedom for beautiful caged birds who write poetry standing at odds against regimented hordes of riding crop wielding jackbooted thugs. A regime which is free to one kind of person can be unfree to another and vice-versa. So if merely to call for a recognition that the state is still the best form of self-organization we have, and that we should not be so quick to topple those of others lest we threaten backlashes which can make our own less free is to be authoritarian, by all means, let us be ‘authoritarian.’

Personally, I fear the political backlash to terrorism more than the acts themselves. They are far more likely, proportionally, to affect me directly. But it also means we have to be serious about what kinds of freedoms we want and don’t want. And we also have to acknowledge that most likely we will not be the ones to decide. What is relevant right now is that authoritarianism may very well make a come back, and that doesn’t have to be *all* bad. And no, I don’t even think terrorism will be the main reason it comes back, but rather ecological catastrophe. Whatever terrorism brings us now in debates on state power is merely the prelude to a greater debate on responding to a rapidly changing planet.

And this is where authoritarianism might be selectively helpful. We have already seen how some kinds of regimes in sectarian-divided countries keep minorities safer than they would be otherwise by being undemocratic. We also know that authoritarian states have a pretty good record at crisis response. Particularly on environmental issues. The world’s largest polluter and most rapidly developing country, China, is also the one going through a crash course in large scale sustainable energy which puts its rivals and some developed countries to shame in ambition and hopefully effect. But let us go further.

When Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’ came out in 2005 I was a sophomore history major in college and a fan of all things Diamond (in many ways I still am-this post was originally going to be ‘Hooray for Determinism’ after all before recent events changed its nature when I got around to it-though I might still write such a thing) ¬†and also a libertarian. Having that simple (and oh so American) world view, I found myself invigorated by the challenge he presented. The two large scale examples he presented of a state successfully responding to ecological crisis were both very authoritarian states. One, the Dominican Republic, a blatantly racist and fascistic government under Raphael Trujillo, and the other, the mega-centralizing hyper-bureaucratic Tokugawa Shogunate. These were the states which he lauded for foresight. Two opposite poles of me were in a delicious conflict over what position to take on this issue.

Well, in about three years I made a full recovery from libertarianism and I knew the answer. Though to be fair, the materialist always lurking inside me probably made this inevitable. Libertarianism is, at its core, a type of Taliban-style liberalism of just taking one non-material ideology and ramping up it to 11 with philosophical purity as its key point. With this discarded, I could acknowledge that Trujillo may have been one of the biggest dicks to ever live, but a broken clock and all that. One doesn’t have to endorse a Shogunate as an ideal type of government to acknowledge there are many things that particular one did right, from public health administration to education and infrastructure. And of course, a national forestry system with an eye on conservation-in the 17th Century no less!

Weak states and loose confederacies are better at doing many things than stronger more centralized states. And I will always defend federal style systems as ideal for learning about the divergences in policy execution in the laboratories of regions and adapting accordingly. But crisis response is not one of them. Terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the less media sexy but slow burning fuse of ecological collapse which will drive state reaction in the long term. And we might just find certain types of authority useful.

After all, many of the greatest periods of multicultural cohesion have been under monarchies and pre-victorian empires. Many on the far right betray their true colors when they imply that a society which can accommodate many kinds of people is a threat to the social cohesion of democracy. Maybe they are right in some instances, but the Roman Republic appeals much less to me than the Roman Empire does. I would give up the vote before I would give my access to material goods of diverse origin and interaction with people of greater backgrounds. I doubt there will ever be such a dramatic either/or choice and I am largely playing devil’s advocate here, but should such a turn come, I will chose multicultural authority over monolithic democracy. History makes a better case for it in terms of overall case studies. Sure, one can always say most people are political idiots in any context, as it is I have already railed against the naive cosmopolitanism of liberalism on this very blog. But as a lesser of evils, wouldn’t you rather have a variety of idiots than the same kind repeated over and over again? Awash in a sea of vatniks or their American or whatever equivalent is a future far too boring and horrible for any type of interesting person to even fathom.

Previously, I waxed poetic about my love of the Heavy Gear setting for looking an a non-utopian science fiction of international relations. One thing I always really liked about the setting is that the Southern Republic was the best representation of a complicated authoritarian order. It was a zero tolerance regime for criticizing the government, but in exchange it was a patron of the arts and a subsidizer of the common citizen. It also allowed social libertinism unseen in other competing states of the setting. This reminds me of the Tang Dynasty, the early Mongol Empire, High Rome or any other period of effective cultural flowering. Of course, being able to the criticize the government is a right I would loathe to lose, but let us be honest-for most people food, sex, and housing matters most. If one can’t have it all one can get their priorities in a proper hierarchy. Principles be damned in the face of impoverishment or even in compromising the epicure.

As I stated at the start, this isn’t a post glorifying state power. It is a post building upon Gray’s call for a mature discussion of what freedom and authority really are without devolving into enlightenment baggage of good and evil and free and unfree. The world moves fast and change is constant. State collapse increases the negatives of this and as our biodiversity collapsed and our rapacious need for resources grows unchecked, its time to move beyond lame establishment narratives of NGOS and hippie activists saving the planet through fundraising and talk about what might be necessary for states to do.

And not to do.

P.S.: I love the Shadowrun games and find them (and the original rpg setting) a pretty brutal look at what a technological yet stateless society would look like. It aint pretty, even with all the cool magic and creatures. Its a setting which is clearly influencing one of my present creative projects in fact so it is on my mind. So, I leave you with the most recent (and best) entry in the series very good soundtrack. It gets much better in the second half by the way.