Hey there. I’ve never done this before, but with today’s video I’ve re-purposed a snippet of a longer conversation I had last week with Jon Coumes of the Safe For Democracy podcast. I’m doing this because I went on a (somewhat profane) rant that answers a question I get from a lot of people. What is Obama’s foreign policy legacy, and how should we look at it historically speaking? It’s way too early to tell of course, but I have a pretty good idea. The channel usually tries to deal with current issues, and though we’re still dealing with all of his wars, Obama is not a current issue. So I won’t be doing a more produced video on the topic.
But I think this video answers the question pretty handily…
Ahh the joys of half-remembered college courses! This week’s video is about Syria, but it’s also about the concept of agenda-setting, something I barely remember from my Political Science classes, back in Ann Arbor around the turn of the century. I couldn’t track down the book, or even the exact concept I was remembering, and I fear I may have made a bit of a hash of it. The video communicates what I wanted to say, but I think I mixed the concepts of agenda-setting and attention in a way that may not fit the model I learned back then.
Attention, what we pay attention to, individually and as a country is a very important concept, and one that I play with a lot on this channel. Agenda-setting, as I remember, is a good deal drier. There are a number of stakeholders in government and society that compete to bring about legislative action. Social media and our great orange president change the calculus. It may actually make sense to include the attention span of the individual voter, and that voter’s media consumption habits in any discussion of agenda-setting today.
I’m not sure that clarified anything, but I wanted to at least mention that the version of “agenda-setting” here may not fit what my professor was talking about. I remain very proud of today’s video however.
This one is part sequel, part explanation. A couple weeks back I published a video entitled “Washington, DC Has Won The War In Syria”. One of my central points was the thought that while the US government had met many of its messed up priorities, the US people and the world and general had in fact lost. It became clear from the comments that this did not get across.
So I put together the video I’m uploading with this post. I think it answers criticisms, but it also does more with that. It reckons with the larger consequences of the Syrian war for geopolitics, and the prospects of world peace and prosperity in general. It starts specific and gets very very general. Syria is a depressing issue, and my weariness with its unrelenting horror may come across in this video. But I try to end on a hopeful note.
This video may not strike you as very serious. But seriousness is the whole point. We use Iran to justify a lot of bad behavior. Just a week or so back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we’re going to indefinitely hold territory in Syria because we don’t like the fact that Iran has influence in a country it has had influence in for decades. We use the “seriousness” of the Iranian threat to ourselves and Israel to justify stuff. This doesn’t mean we’re actually serious about the Iranian threat.
Because if we were serious about countering Iran, we’d be using every possible opening. We’d have the ability to both deal with them diplomatically, and oppose them militarily in proxy wars, just like the Cold Warriors of Yore. But we don’t. Because nothing about US foreign policy is serious. Other than its consequences for the world. This video is a thought experiment, asking how we’d tread Iran’s president Rouhani if we were truly serious about countering threats from Iran.
The conflict in Afrin may have been my most requested topic ever. I’m glad that folks have forced me to at Syria again. I was dreading it a bit, though, because the subject is super depressing. The war is both horrific and infantile, where some players are desperately hanging on, and others are just idly running around destroying things and destroying people.
The United States would be the prime example of the latter. We’re barely aware of what we’re doing, and what has happened. We are constantly told that Syria somehow means that US leadership is waning, or that other actors are “winning” the war. Believing this requires complete ignorance of the real power dynamics here. The US is much more powerful than any other belligerent, and by any objective analysis my government is the only entity that has “won” anything here. If Syria was a board game, Washington, DC would be the winner. But Syria isn’t a board game. It’s a country that has been destroyed. It may take decades, but there will be consequences. This video lays out the whole depressing state of affairs in Syria today, and yes, it also deals with Afrin.
War Sucks. This is something we’ve lost touch with in the United States. It’s a central truth that’s become further and further from us since the middle of the 20th century. Not that our World War II experience was all that bruising either, compared to almost anybody else in Europe and Asia. Since Vietnam our military has been all-volunteer, and in the 21st century our death-dealing has become more remote, thanks to drones and smarter weapons. Our insulation from all of the consequences of war has made us more willing to use it as a tool of policy or economic stimulus.
Not for Lebanon. They don’t have that luxury. For fifteen years, it was their tiny country that was torn apart by the political fantasies of foreign countries. This video lays out how that horror has allowed them to save us from a broader war, both over the past six years and in the past month in particular.
We never hear about Yemen. Endless amounts of ink and pixels have been spent on the conflict in Syria. “Innocents are dying!” is the constant refrain. Well, innocents are dying in Yemen too, and we never hear about it. I’m not saying that information on Yemen is censored in our newspapers. It’s censored by the combatants, but that’s not tremendously different from what goes on in Syria, and is not what I’m getting at.
We do know that Yemen is a disaster, but our government and media doesn’t do anything more than issue the facts. There are no government ultimatums or red lines. There is no daily “above the fold” update. When the UN or some other NGO issues a new report full of outrages, it is dutifully published on page 27 or the online equivalent. No time is invested in Yemen either, in the halls of government or on the opinion pages. That’s an outrage.
Today’s video explains why that is and starts my small effort to raise awareness about Yemen.
Obama failed Syria, and Trump is going to fail Syria too. This video explains why. Most people will tell you that the US didn’t do enough in Syria. Actually it’s the complete opposite. We are now on our second president who doesn’t want us involved in Syria. Presidents can win elections, but they can’t beat the Military Industrial Complex.
This video is super depressing. But I’m excited that it lets me continue two of my best series, that have lain fallow for a while now. This is the 14th installment of my series on Syria, and it up-dates the story, incorporating some developments, like the disclosure and apparent end of Timber Sycamore, that I have been itching to discuss for weeks. It also returns in a big way to my Military Industrial Complex series. When I started the series over two years ago now, I had an end in mind. Still haven’t gotten there. We’ll see if I can pull it together!
9/11 conspiracy theorists are focusing on the wrong thing. The true scandal isn’t what happened in the run-up to 9/11. It’s what Washington, DC did after 9/11 that is truly horrifying.
US Middle East Policy is a sad, sad joke. One of the central points in my understanding of the world is this: Institutions will act in what they perceive their interests to be, not the interests of the people they are supposed to serve. When institutions are crafted with this knowledge in mind, they can serve useful purposes. But once you point them in a direction, they are hard to turn around. The fundamental ridiculousness of post-9/11 foreign policy, laid out in this video, is a great example.
On 9/11 we were attacked by Saudi Arabia. But the US foreign policy establishment had decided long ago that the Saudis were are allies. So we went out and beat up on Saudi Arabia’s enemies. This never made any sense. Worse, it hasn’t worked. The US government’s policy was always going to be a failure on the measure of finding and punishing the perpetrators of the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. That was never the goal. But post-9/11 hasn’t even succeeded in the goal it chose: Protecting and expanding Saudi and US power.
So maybe we should choose some new goals?
If you want an idea of what that might look like, and a fuller recounting of the disaster that post- 9/11 US policy has been, I suggest you check out my new essay: Everybody’s Lying About Islam.
Everybody thinks that the Middle East is different somehow. It’s really not. The real reason it’s a mess isn’t “centuries old hatreds” or the “oil curse”. 30 years ago, much of the rest of the world was just as screwed up. The reason the Middle East is still a mess, is because it remains the subject of competition between regional and world powers. The US and Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Israel against everybody else (supposedly), has kept a “Cold War” dynamic going in the Middle East long after it has faded everywhere else.
China, the only power that may one day rival the United States, is a paid up member of the US system. “Competition” in the rest of the world is about “Trade Wars” not “War Wars”. The US has provided a good enough deal to get everyone on the same page. Donald Trump wants to end that. He has a straightforwardly mercantilist, or even mercenary way of looking at the world. As I put it in the video, he wants to replace a generous deal with “F#*K you, pay me!”. These rough edges might be in the process of being shaved off, but it’s worth looking at what would happen to the world if he got his way.
Trump’s world would be one of renewed competition between the US and regional powers on every continent. It wouldn’t be one of great power war, not during Trump’s term anyway, but it would mean more proxy wars. Likely locations are some you’ve heard of, like Ukraine and Libya, and some you might not have thought of, like Thailand and Azerbaijan. Political tussles that are worked out locally today would quickly attain an international dimension. The Cold War’s ability to turn every local issue into competition between the US and the USSR was extraordinary. In a world of renewed competition between regional powers, this dynamic would resurface. In the words of Thucydides…
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
Let’s try to avoid that shall we?
I should probably explain what I’m up to with this World War 3 Series I’ve been developing over the past couple months. On one level it’s a shameless bid for views. YouTube loves World War 3. There’s a lot of stuff out there insisting that world war is imminent. One of the most annoying bits of fake news during the 2016 election was the assumption that Hillary Clinton would bring it about if she were elected. My annoyance has now transitioned to the folks who insist that Trump is going to turn the world into a cinder. The chances of that are definitely higher than they would have been under Clinton, but I think they are still pretty trivial. If we’re looking for a partner for World War III, we’ve got the same problem we’ve had since 1989. Nobody’s really interested. In the first episode in this series “Will Trump Start a War With China?” I address China’s inability to challenge us today, and Trump’s possible role in encouraging a conflict down the line. In Part two, “Is Russia Winning?” I laid out why they are pretty clearly not.
So in one sense, the point of this series is to get people to relax. But it’s not that I don’t think World War 3 is possible. In fact I think it’s inevitable. The only question in my mind is when it happens. Will it happen 50 years from now, or 500 years from now? It’s our responsibility to push that day off for as long as possible. That’s the point of this series beyond the clicks. The internet shouldn’t be talking about World War III the way it does, but it’s a good thing to think about nonetheless. We humans are violent folks. Past performance is no indicator of future results, of course, but the every year that goes by without a conflagration is a win for us. We need to think more seriously about how to keep that streak going. Which is exactly what today’s video tries to do.