Honestly, even I’m not so sure how I made it from John Kelly’s views of the US Civil War to Diocletian. But I did. It was nice to take a break from Saudi Arabia with a nice palate cleansing, and profoundly odd video. Comparing US history to Roman history is a profoundly silly thing to do. The systems are just too different. But sometimes the echos are so obvious I can’t help myself. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I enjoyed making it.
Since I started laying into Saudi Arabia with gusto about six months ago, folks have been bringing any number of stories to my attention. It seems like every month or so there is a new positive story about Saudi Arabia running in every major Western news outlet. It’s like clockwork. Actually it’s just like clockwork.
Some of these stories represent real advances. Some do not. But we’re not seeing them because of their intrinsic merit, we are seeing them because Saudi Arabia gives tens of millions of dollars to the best public relations people in the business. Last week saw one of the most coordinated and sophisticated pushes yet. This video mentions an interview with the Guardian, but there were customized approaches to a number of outlets. The New York Times gave their launch of a new economic zone above the fold treatment.
So I tend to be pretty skeptical when somebody comes to me with news of Saudi Arabia’s changes for the better. There was one element in the onslaught this week that surprised me however. MBS’s claim that Saudi Arabia is now a moderately Islamic country was legitimately shocking to me. Shocking enough that I made this video.
It occurs to me that I haven’t exactly been clear about what I want to be done about Saudi Arabia. I absolutely do not want to employ the conventional arsenal of regime change. I don’t even think our “historic alliance” should be abandoned. We just need to spend less time going in with them on stupid ideas like the Syrian and Yemeni “civil wars”. Because without us, they can’t to much to make their stupid ideas a reality. It’s now abundantly clear to everybody outside of the arms industry or Washington, DC that Saudi Arabia is not a useful ally. So let’s stop treating them as such. When they suggest a foreign adventure or a proxy war, lets treat them with exactly the same level of interest we’d have for a similar project from Bulgaria or Tanzania: Not Much.
This video answers a question I’ve gotten a few times in the comments. How can I be so pro-Iran yet so anti-Saudi Arabia? It’s simple really. I don’t want Iran to become the new Saudi Arabia, I just want to call an end to the decades of useless antagonism. Iran has not done us anywhere near as much harm as Saudi Arabia has. So we should treat Iran the same way we treat a more “distantly allied” Saudi Arabia. That would be quite a step up. It’s quite literally the least we can do.
Trump’s tremendous Iran screw up makes me think of the Suez Crisis. But then almost everything does. I may be a little obsessed with the Suez Crisis. There’s a certain poetry to it. Maybe because it’s one of those rare examples of the United States doing the right thing. But as this video explains, it is also a warning. The Suez Crisis is my choice for the end of the British Empire. It’s an example we should all be thinking of more as Donald Trump accelerates the end of the US Empire.
Donald Trump’s wrecking ball trick has been tried before. In fact it’s pretty much the only trick he has. But this time it’s different. Things like the Climate Change agreement are easy to re-visit. By the next administration folks can come back to it. The Iran Deal is different. He hasn’t managed to destroy it yet, but if he does, the damage he does to US-Iranian relations, and the reputation of the country will be permanent. The Opportunity of the JCPOA, the possibility of a broader peace between the US and Iran, has probably already been squandered. The chances of Iran becoming a North Korea style Nuclear hermit have also been increased.
This video focuses on the basics of why Trump’s actions are so insane. Later in the week we should get into the repercussions. But earlier today I saw the Iranian Foreign Minister making a very valid point that didn’t make it into either. If Trump succeeds in destroying this deal. Which he is likely to do from the US perspective anyway. How does any country ever trust the United States again?
With this video we bring our investigation into Yemen to a close. Looking at the country in depth, it’s become clear that the stories we tell about Yemen don’t have much relation to reality. Al Qaeda nightmares, and the much heralded hegemony of Iran are ideas that I find annoying at the best of times, but they’re especially pernicious when it comes to Yemen. These issues are tangential to the conflict in Yemen, which is really about independence first and foremost. I hope you find this series useful.
I’m quite pleased with how this has gone. It’s nice to produce a handful of videos with a defined beginning, middle and end. Those who make their way through this Yemen series will know more about the country and the conflict than anybody in Washington, DC. I hope to be able to make more things like this in future. Which is why I close today’s video with another Patreon Pitch…
It’s amazing how little most policy makers know about history. If it’s not about Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, they probably haven’t heard of it. This is a real problem. As the stewards of a power that might actually have a few real competitors a couple decades from now, they really need to start learning.
This week I’ve been in Bavaria, a formerly independent region of Germany. This prompted a number of ruminations on Germany, France, and their relative power throughout history. All that inspired this video, which reveals the central fact Washington, DC is missing: There is nothing worse for the power on top than war.
It’s almost like they’re the same word. In US circles it used to be rare to see a headline mentioning Yemen that didn’t also include Al Qaeda. In media circles I guess this is understandable. US audiences want to read about that which threatens us, and ISIS and Al Qaeda are past masters at getting themselves on our radar. Terrorists generally play the media like a fiddle. What’s less forgivable is the focus of the US government. Instead of taking steps to stabilize Yemen, a country whose collapse was endlessly foretold, we ran around bombing stuff, and further empowering Ali Abdullah Saleh, the kleptocrat who was riding Yemen to destruction. The result, of course, is what we have now, chaos, and a vastly empowered Al Qaeda. Good job team!
This video, the second to last in the Yemen series for now, starts the job of bringing in a different focus for our discussion of Yemen.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I’ve come to see Donald Trump as a cultural phenomenon more than a political one. There’s still plenty of time for somebody to whip him into shape, but it seems like the nightmares of his retrograde political ambitions are unlikely to come to pass. The man is just too incompetent. What he is, is a symbol. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently dubbed Trump “The First White President”. In this video I argue that he’s also the last. Donald Trump is one last barbaric yawp of resentment from mid-century suburban Babbits on their way to the grave. He symbolizes the accelerated destruction of a dying era rather than a new one. I’m excited to see what’s next…
I’ve evolved kind of an odd format for this Yemen series. History is always written with an eye towards what’s happening right now. In my research for this series I found the only book written after the Saudi intervention in Yemen to be the most useful. The other books were kind of haunted by the idea that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Yemen wasn’t sustainable. Yemen Endures, the best of the bunch, was very sure it wasn’t. History is about drawing lessons, and the lessons we need apply to what’s happening now.
With these videos I think I’m doing a kind of extreme version of that. I started with the current crisis, and now I’m working my way through Yemen’s history in a telescoping format. Part 2 covered 1500-1970 or so, today’s part 3 covers 1970-2001, and (maybe) Tuesday’s should cover 2001-2011. As I go along I try to draw out the lessons for today’s issues that are useful. I find this approach pretty satisfying. How is it for the viewers?