Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard

Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard.

tulsi gabbard pic

First, a reminder that Geotrickster was ahead of the curve of Tulsi Gabbard, who announced her interest in seeking the presidency in 2020 today.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has been on my radar since 2013. She was the first non-Rand Paul voice criticizing the Obama Administration’s foreign policy towards the Middle East which was clearly starting to go off the rails around the time of the 2012 election. She has been a consistent advocate against the Bipartisan Perpetual War Party that has driven America and much of the world it claims to ‘police’ into the gutter so far in the 21rst Century. And she did this without being the opposite extreme of being an isolationist or far right crank.

Tulsi Gabbard has demonstrated, time and time again, that not only is American foreign policy off the rails and hijacked by special interests awash in their own self-congratulatory ideology, but that restraint is not only the less costly policy in terms of lives and money but also the superior way to combat extremism and avoid the alienation of allies. Having myself worked for the State Department in countering violent extremism in the past, I can assure you that this position of hers is correct. Regime change wars fuel Islamic extremism and sectarian division, diplomatic engagement can help diffuse them and build partnerships abroad. And with far less danger of direct blowback. While Trump alienates allies and the mainstream Democrats stoke hawkishness in a blind knee jerk reaction to his few better instincts, some few people, with Tulsi in the lead, represent a proper realist alternative that understands the need for cost/benefit analysis over ideological devotion. Besides, being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is no good for us.

But despite the foreign policy focus on this blog, this is not the only reason I want to express my happiness at the declaration of Tulsi Gabbard. Congresswoman Gabbard is among that rare clique of Democrats who are reform minded away from the destructive, self-consuming, and ultimately right wing-neoliberal policies of the Clinton Consensus that has dominated the party since 1992. She does this without being a starry-eyed idealist or beholden to some teleological world view about the end of history. And considering her strong endorsement of indigenous rights and environmental action, she can be taken seriously on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. It is for many of these reasons that she has Democratic, Republican, and Independent admirers alike. If there is anything the 2016 election shows, it is that having appeal outside the closed world of partisan hacks is necessary for national elections. Both casual voters and nuanced non-partisan voters are desperately seeking a candidate that represents an alternative to the ossified nature of center-left and far-right.

It is important to acknowledge that Tulsi Gabbard, especially as a relatively anti-establishment candidate running within a party notorious for self-selecting right-to-centrist-wing candidates for the sake of the donor money and ‘expert’ strategist hires it is so fond of, is going to come into a large amount of criticism in the time ahead. The Democratic establishment as much if not more will attack her than the Republicans do. We will be subjected to the intense irony of people who support the mass bombing of the Middle East calling her Islamophobic for preferring diplomacy to endless war. We will see her former record on gay rights be called into question. She will be called an isolationist. Many of these critiques will not just be from rote liberals but also proper leftists.

My response to them is as follows. I know I am not alone in finding the level of leeway Islamic ideologies are given by people who are supposedly so secular at home. This represents the dangerous infiltration of postmodernism into the issue and ignores that many secularist individuals and movements also exist in Muslim majority societies. Weaponized Islamism is a danger in some parts of the world much like far-right evangelism is in North America. It is wise, not foolish, to remain devoted to security issues around this topic. It is, however, a problem for police and culture, not for militarized intervention. Gabbard recognizes that Islamist ideology is dangerous and requires a firm hand, but that war is usually not the answer. One can-and should-hold both of these positions.

Gabbard is also not an isolationist. She has endorsed a smart, rather than bullying, position for overall US policy. Such a powerful country cannot realistically retreat from the planet without leaving a dangerous vacuum-and few actual people endorse isolationism anymore. The problem is that the neoconservative-dominated foreign policy establishment will use the phrase ‘isolationism’ against anyone who is not ready to constantly and reflexively support their dangerous and wasteful militarism. But it is America behaving like a rogue state since 2003 that has left it more isolated than at any point after the 1930s. Just look at how America is viewed abroad.

As for gay rights, a lot of people, including the entire country itself, has changed its mind on these issues with relative rapidity in recent times. A change in position could be opportunistic, as it was with Obama and especially Hillary Clinton, whose virulent homophobia in the 90s seems to have been utterly excised by much of her more recent wokescold fan base. But Gabbard’s story on social issue evolution came before the country at large, which disavows it being beholden to polls. Furthermore, this evolution was the result of changing views based off life experience, i.e. seeing the disadvantages of social conservatism while being deployed in Iraq. This cannot imply an opportunistic John Kerry style flip-flopping at the drop of a hat or poll numbers, but the genuine changes of belief that happen. Her constant advocacy for minority rights since assuming national level office is proof of this. And in an era of rank racism and climate change denial from one party and complacency from most of the rest of the other she represents a true viable alternative who could connect with significant alienated parts of the present electorate.

After all, I used to be a libertarian and no one could accuse me of holding those views now. I learned through experience and am better for the process.

Her biggest negative is some casual sympathies to Modi’s government in India. While I myself am not a fan of this on the personal level, good relations with India are inevitable for a future America one way or the other. And while I have my strong reservations about the BJP, they are the government of India in the present time and diplomatic use could be made of such connections. India is not Nicaragua or El Salvador. The opinions of US politicians will matter little for its domestic policies. It is large, powerful, and established. Compare this dynamic to the bipartisan establishments many connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel which are not only beyond casual, but positively financial influence peddling many in DC as well.

First the Democratic Party and then hopefully the nation at large will have a choice in the near future: continue the failed Manicheism of two mutually hostile and increasingly aged political parties, or field a barrier breaking candidate running on actual issues rather than media signifiers, the status quo that has failed so many, and fear of criticism. Having learned the lesson of Obama, that charisma without a specifically attached set of policies will ultimately produce little, it is time to support the first candidate for high office who has an issue-driven career and platform and the sense and thoughtfulness to use it pragmatically.

I have seen myself how people across the board tire of endless deregulation and warfare. And I have seen that one of the few people elected in congress today that is well looked on by all of these people, who are largely unrepresented by officer holders,

It is time for Tulsi Gabbard. She is the best candidate I have ever seen to announce a run for the presidency in my entire life so far.

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P.S.

It is important to remember, in the media hysteria relating to the (correct) position to withdrawal from Syria and the resignation of General Mattis, largely due to his own disapproval of any policy that reigns in an over-extended American empire, that Tulsi Gabbard was one of the few public figures who had a record of grilling his pas ‘sage advice.’

And lets not forget the time she endorsed Bernie publicly at Hillary’s coronation:

‘The Hell of Good Intentions’, A Review

hell of good intentions

Stephen Walt was one of the most influential contemporary international relations theorists to me when I first entered the field of IR as a Master’s student over a decade ago. Of the currently active crop of IR thinkers he remains my favorite, so it should be no surprise that the coming of his newest book, ‘The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy’ was an instant acquisition for my massive nonfiction library. Though Walt and I have diverged on some issues in the past few years, our overall diagnoses of both what ails the US foreign policy mainstream as well as what to do about it remains extremely similar.

I am not going to go over the details of the book as many of its themes have been covered on this blog multiple times already. From the incestuous navel gazing of the Court Eunuchs of the Beltway ghoul class to the virtues of America’s fortuitous geography in its rise and options towards grand strategy, to the virtues of offshore balancing to those lucky enough to be able to practice it, all can be found here in various posts. If you know many of my bugbears you can guess what are Walt’s, and vice-versa.

What I will do, however, is review how good a case Walt makes for covering this topic as a single book meant for a large audience. Unsurprisingly, this book is meant for a similar audience as the very one it rightly criticizes. This means Walt takes a very different tactic than I do. Whereas I tend to go after people outside-of-the Beltway and show how the fables of liberal hegemony are directly counter to someone’s interests, Walt wants to convince those who are a bit more integrated into these elite circles. This is not a criticism of mine, as its important to be firing on all cylinders here. I am merely acknowledging that if he is the Martin Luther King Jr of foreign policy realism than I am more the Huey Newton-to use a somewhat tortured and tongue in cheek analogy. I try to convince people who are non-centrist independents, the few sane paleocons, and leftists and he goes more for the liberals and centrists.

Keeping this in mind, Walt does an excellent job. Not only does he wage a thorough and quite multi-topical demolition of both the record of our very own Late Ming court eunuch equivalents whose lanyards are the modern version of the old quill said eunuchs once used to hold in their piss (analogy once again mine), but also the long term effects of these luxury wars we have found ourselves in. For someone who is sometimes (unjustly) criticized in academic circles for ignoring domestic factors and how they shape foreign policy, it is worth pointing out that, so far, this book seems to have little in the way of big newspaper reviews. Quite possibly because it also criticizes the general neoconservative/liberal bias of major legacy papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times’ op-ed section. Had this book come out in the twilight of the cursed Bush II presidency I have no doubt it would have been given more media attention, but in a world where both parties now identify openly with unthinking hawkishness-from Trump embracing Pompeo and Bolton to the Democrats rallying around the flag of the national security state and even bizarrely ex-Bush Junior officials-there is little mainstream attention paid to this work so far despite the fact that Walt is a distinguished and well known scholar in the field.

Fascinating that. I’m sure its just a coincidence.

Needless to say, this is *the* work to get your foreign policy orthodoxy questioning people to engage with series realist critiques of both the present system and what to do about it. The book even helpfully closes out a useful list of talking points and arguments that could be deployed to make the case for a more restrained offshore balancing strategy. Worth keeping around to push the needle especially as a reckoning with the establishment must be only one or two more of their failures away.

My only real critiques of the text as follows:

While Walt does mention how the Lanyard Ghoul (once again, my phraseology) class has an intrinsic reason to back mindlessly hawkish policies due to them making money and status off of such policies, he only barely mentions the privatization and for profit militarization of much of the DoD in the past few decades. This is not something that could be easily reversed without major structural reform not only of The Pentagon, but also our entire political-economic system as it presently stands. This, along with environmental issues, are some of the reasons being a realist actually made me evolve more structurally left wing positions over time. Also, when living in DC, as I currently do, one sees how this recession-proof city really functions as more and more ‘Beltway Bandits’ move in with the attached monstrous apartment complexes clearly designed for pod people in tow. In DC the policy is made, and DC itself is increasingly economically reliant on what Eisenhower once called ‘the military-industrial complex’….except that now said complex has a profit motive above all, and thus far less reasons to uphold the national interest first. This entails not only many jobs that rely directly on the perpetuation of bad policies to exist, but also an army of lobbyists to see that their voices are disproportionately heard in government.

My second criticism is just a minor oversight but one worth mentioning. Walt rightly bemoans the lack of foreign policy focused elected leadership in office currently. While I agree with the argument overall, and also with his complaint that the cause suffers when certain people from a family with the last name of ‘Paul’ do much of the public speaking on its behalf, he is missing one very persistent and vocal figure in congress: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. The entire reason she has managed to restore realist and restraint positions to the discourse is because she is charismatic and is a rare figure focused on foreign affairs. Personally, I would love to see Walt support her mission in congress as congruent to his own.

 

Foreign Policy in the Present Election Cycle

Domestic Politics? In *this* blog? It’s more likely than you think.

Of course, I really mean to discuss how American domestic politics impacts foreign policy. So it still fits the theme.

You would think that in a highly competitive primary season with both parties selecting from pools of candidates that there would be more interesting discussions on foreign policy in the United States. While it was true that Rand Paul was the torch bearer of sanity in foreign policy (if little else) earlier on, he has already become history. Donald Trump, who is grotesque and hilarious in equal measures, has at least forced a reckoning on Dubya’s legacy long delayed by the GOP-even if he has no coherent ideas of his own.

The candidates both party establishments clearly want to win are, unsurprisingly, the two most hawkish of hawks. Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are basically indistinguishable from each other on big picture foreign affairs. American Exceptionalism, delusions of grandeur, and a blind faith in military solutions when regarding small weaker nations ruled in ways contrary to American values. They both have track records of opinions which would meet the approval of Cheney and Kristol alike.

The Democratic primary is just as much wild card vs reckoning. No one actually knows what Bernie Sanders holds as views on foreign policy, if any are coherent at all. But then a very interesting thing happened…Tulsi Gabbard resigned her post as DNC Vice Chair to endorse him.

I am definitely not yet sold on the Sanders bandwagon, nor do I think endorsements matter as much as people think they do, but I cannot contain my joy at the following two things:
1. I remain convinced that Gabbard is going places. I have mentioned her previously on this blog as one of the rare realists left in congress. We have had decades of endless and naively conducted war with little grand strategic perspective. With a Sanders nomination unlikely she took a long term calculation to back him specifically because of foreign policy issues and to build her future reputation as the foreign policy realist (who is not Rand Paul). Its her career trajectory that most fascinates me rather than his. And if he does win, she will no doubt get an interesting cabinet post.
2. I am so thankful after decades of evidence that the Clintons are basically Dick Cheney Lite that someone is making a major point of finally calling them out for it. The media never had the spine to do this. It still doesn’t. They look at the quantity of titles on her resume without looking to see the quality and results of what they describe.
There is something beautifully Roveian (in the best ways) about destroying a foe’s strength. Going after Clinton on foreign policy is like a factual and justifiable version of swift boating, you sink the opposition’s main selling point-and this time you actually do it by telling the verifiable truth. Obviously Gabbard can do this, and Sanders cannot as he has no actually articulated foreign policy views or coherent record.
Maybe, just maybe, we can have a real discussion about foreign policy in this election season…for once. After all, this is hardly an issue that primarily affects Americans. One could say in fact it primarily affects people who are not Americans. That is why non-Americans tend to know more about American foreign policy than Americans do, by and large.
Plus, while you might think a trickster themed blog does revel in the chaos-or shadenfreude- caused by Trumps’ run, I would counter that Trump is just a shuckster insider who knows how to play the system created by decades of toxic (primarily conservative) social divide and rule politics. A quite typical figure actually in the mold of William Jennings Bryan, Vladimir Putin, or Marine le Pen. Whereas the first Hindu in congress (potentially, hopefully?) running with in some capacity a Jewish candidate against a bombardment of media hostility and entrenched interests is a much more interesting upset to the system. Trump after all hardly threatens any media oligarch tax brackets and thus no doubt they could come to accommodate him.
Even if the Sanders ticket goes down in defeat, as is probable, its run will have shaken things up-specifically in the realm least expected of it, that of foreign policy.
Keep your eyes on Gabbard. She is going places.

 

Ibn Khaldun vs Washington DC

 

ibn khaldun

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) was a historian and social science theorist from Tunis most famous for writing the Muqaddimah, a work of historical theory which sought to explain the cyclic nature of politics, its benefits and drawbacks, and how best to ride these changes for certain fields like medicine and scientific exploration to keep growing even while the regimes they required to support themselves kept inevitably declining and/or collapsing. He traveled widely, found employment in many places, and even directly discussed Emir Timur’s role in history with Timur himself during the siege of Damascus. There are few examples of primary source research so direct and enviable as that.

He was a bit of Gray and a bit of Marx and a bit of Smith and a bit of Diamond and even a bit of the contemporary IR theories of both neoclassical realism and world systems theory long before any of those things existed. He pioneered materialism in historical research and advocated political policies ahead of their time for his context. His work is widely available and translated in many languages so I need not go over it in detail. It merely needs to be stated that he is probably the single most important social theorist in my life. No one individual has ever, to me, made more sense of history and politics on the macro scale. I read and cited him extensively while I was working on my doctoral thesis.

For the sake of this post we need now only deal with one of his thesis, perhaps his most famous. That all regimes and governments become corrupted with incompetence, nepotism, and laziness with time. The longer they are around, the worse it becomes. They lose all their ‘asibyyah’ (group-feeling) while forces opposed to them will unite and therefore gain asibiyyah. In Khaldun’s world these were nomadic and tribal people, be it Bedouin, Turks, or Mongols. They had the practical skills and solidarity enough to eventually capitalize on the rotten empires, come in, and take over. For a few generations the new ruling class would re-invigorate society combining the best of the outsider’s abilities with the resources and learning of the establishment. Then, they too would begin to be subsumed into the conventions, rote thinking, and petty factionalism of the society to which they had integrated into to rule. Then the cycle would begin again.

Demographic changes over centuries ending in the industrial revolution abolished the power of nomadic societies but kept the privateering naval oriented ones going strong in this way, though states that survived industrialization became too strong to fall to outsiders so easily unless said outsiders were more powerful established states themselves or were internal mass revolutions. This in no way invalidates Khaldun’s thesis to be a relic of the medieval past, however. I would argue it merely shifted who the outsiders were. One could bring in Marx here and say it was the working classes who could play this role now. Mao would say it was the rural peasants. Marxism, however, at its core remains an often Hegelian and almost always eurocentric philosophy (particularly when discussing history-just look at the farce of Hobsbawm being taken as a great insightful thinker for a more modern example) in both theory and historical assumption. Perhaps Marx’s theories would have been better off at the bat had he been able to  engage with figures like Khaldun. As it is, the promise in Marxist theory has yet to be fully realized and work there still has to be done by those so inclined. Still, the fact remains that the ‘lower orders’ of society might very well be the invigorating invaders we need to topple the status quo.

Or just as easily, perhaps not. Perhaps the people who have the luxury to not have direct regional attachments will be such a force, or perhaps disaffected and disillusioned former establishment operators will be it. Or an alliance of some or all of the above. Perhaps an anti-populist reaction against purist movements will one day grow and demand to seize the power from the complacent classes which in America have certainly built around them webs of true believers and ideologues capable of nothing but posturing their supposed purity in front on each other like Calvinists and Wahhabis at a theological convention.

Edward Gibbon once theorized that Christianity itself was the root cause of the decline of Rome (at least in the west). While I am far too much a materialist to agree entirely, I would say a values system that prioritizes feelings over action and moral posturing over civic duty is surely no positive introduction to society. We have seen waves of this moral absolutism and internal purge-culture throughout societies since that time, and now in the form of faith based economic models and appeals to identity politics of all stripes it still rides a high horse through the land, motivating politicians obsessed with election cycles to harness this ignorant mass in order to ensure little gets done while their positions (and book deals) are secure. It is a government by the elect, for the true believers. Thus, it is really no government at all.

One of the many disturbing things I have learned since I moved to DC is that the more insider to DC culture one is and the more educated they are, the more likely they are to adopt rote thinking on major issues since they have lost the ability to see any issue as anything but a well-oiled cog in the machine which is exposed to a very small array of mandatory socially acceptable opinions. Most of these people are liberals and centrists and feel that merely by being more intelligent or well read than a Trump supporter or a Tea Party fanatic means they are in fact extremely enlightened and virtuous guardians of rationality. It would be much the same as an uncoordinatated dweebus such as myself who has no aptitude for sports claiming to be a better basketball player than Stephen Hawking. I mean, yes, it is technically true, but it effectively says nothing of substance or offers an interesting comparison.
 
It must be apparent to an outsider that this limited multiple choice test of right-on opinions as the baseline of public discussion is increasingly the problem rather than the solution, the defensive entrenched class circles the wagons even further. They admonish us to be ‘centrist’, ‘sensible’ and ‘not to rock the boat.’ Of course, they never say that to the far right, useful idiots and all, but now they have let the asp into the bed and cannot control it. But we should still trust them to be ‘sensible’ anyway.
 
Leaving aside for now the quite obvious counter-point of pointing out what a thin substance-free gruel ‘centrism’ and ‘sensibility’really is by merely asking them questions like ‘what is a sensible centrist in Saudi Arabia?’ ‘What is a sensible centrist in Iran?’ ‘What is a sensible centrist in North Korea?’ And ‘What was a sensible centrist in the Axis Powers of World War II or during the times of the Inquisition?’ ‘What was a sensible centrist in the vote to invade Iraq?’ We should move on to another point-why are you all so short cited? The obvious answer is addiction to fashion and the need to posture rather than to act. Needless to say, these are all symptoms of a regime in decline which-technology adjusted-Ibn Khaldun would have recognized in a heartbeat.

It is the shame of the legislative branch of the United States that so many people can be part of such a powerful institution with access to so many resources-including intellectual ones, I became an official card carrying ‘Reader’ at the Library of Congress just last week-is so short term and factionally driven. Much like the nonprofit sector which grows around the establishment and feeds off of its divisions, petty media-driven battles are considered good politics in America rather than the act of actual governing or planning beyond an electoral cycle. Otherwise thoughtful people tow the line on ideological package deals when cherry picking would be more admirable and honest of a course to take.

Just take one sad, sorry, drawn out example is that of the US response to the Syrian Civil War, to look at how much nonsense such a dysfunctional regime can produce. In a zealous quest to overthrow a government of the country where Khaldun once met Timur the establishment found itself arming effectively Al Qaeda affiliated rebel groups and even ‘moderate’ rebels who have no room for sectarian and ethnic minorities in their new order. This toxic combination helped lead to the rise of Daesh, which now is every (sane) person’s enemy. And yet, an accommodation with the (relatively secular and multicultural) regime is still avoided because the Washington Consensus from congress to its mindless town criers and prophets by the names of Dowd, Friedman, Kristol, and Will somehow believes the fundamental values of not rocking the boat of the establishment is worth upholding. Indeed, even extolling in moral terms.

To say that the building forces of accumulated history which may as well be the ghost of Ibn Khladun himself will one day lay down the vengeance on this order is to be as polite as humanely possible. And not just the United States. I feel like we are living in a collection of powerful societies unwittingly and even proudly reenacting the death throws of Late Imperial Russia.

But even within this sad state of affairs, one heroic figure has emerged from the most unlikely place-inside of congress. Outside of shunted aside realist academic thinkers and a kooky quixotic Rand Paul presidential campaign, no one has come from the inside to really challenge the ossified orthodoxy on foreign policy-until Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard that is.

From challenging the internal incompetence of the Democratic Party (currently seeming to be throwing away all its collective advantages and surrendering all power locally simply to hold on to the presidency-a bad long term strategy if ever there was one) to the inability of people to state that radical Islam itself is a problem, to the neocon establishment that lurks in both parties, she takes them all on. Here is someone who made it to the inside but retained the more sober and less fashion-prone perspective of the outsider. If Americans do not make a concerted effort to support people like her in government they may as well give up on retaining opinions or participation with the government as it is in any shape or form. People like her are our last best hope in the system as it presently is.

The question is, where do we find our own new outsider-based regime? This is ‘The outsiders guide to geopolitics’ as a blog after all, but I am still trying to figure this out. We need more tricksters. We need an Age of Tricksters. And not just hovering outside poking fun-though that is always necessary-but inside. We have to figure out how to remake governments with those immune to its faddish complacent tendencies directly in power. Inevitably, over time, they will integrate and the process will has to be repeated of course, just as Khaldun said. But only fools think history progresses along a linear path to a predetermined end point after all.
That is the challenge to ponder for the future.