It’s always worth re-examining something we all just think of as normal. I would never call myself a journalist. I don’t do the hard work of cultivating sources and ferreting out things that are hidden from us. But what I hope the MFF is good at is re-interpreting things we all know, connecting the dots, and laying out why certain aspects of our common knowledge are troubling. That’s what today’s video attempts to do. We have come to see it as normal that actors all over the world seek to take advantage of US elections to get away with things. Why should they care what happens in this country? And what does it say about the true dimensions of US power that they do?
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. About a year ago I published a book called Avoiding the British Empire. In it, I argued that the US empire is a lot more similar to the British Empire than we realize and that the US is making very similar mistakes. It’s a controversial argument to make, because a lot of people like to deny that the US empire even exists. Well over the past month or So, Azerbaijan and Ethiopia just proved that US empire is very real.
It wasn’t just Ethiopia and Azerbaijan of course, but they are the examples I have spent the most time researching over the past month. The two countries are vastly different. For one thing Ethiopia is 10 times more populous than Azerbaijan. For another Ethiopia is probably the biggest power of all its neighbors, while Azerbaijan is stuck between three regional titans. But these two countries, as well as many others, operated on the same timeline this year. And that timeline was set by US empire.
What I am talking about, of course, is the US election. In countries everywhere, governments took actions designed to take advantage of the fact that the world’s attentions would be elsewhere. This seems like a generic thing to say, noted widely like it’s uncontroversial, which is nuts. What do you call it when the internal politics of one country automatically impact the politics of every other country? Well I call it world-wide empire.
You can see this dynamic In prior years but on a smaller scale. Turkey’s first invasion of Syria took place in August 2016, just as the fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reached a fever pitch. Each of Turkey’s subsequent moves in Syria have been surrounded by a firestorm of international controversy. But Turkey was freer to make that first move because of the 2016 US election. In 2020, the distraction potential has gotten much higher. Trumps character, the polling, and the likelihood that he would be a poor loser made it clear that this election was going to be a multi-month dumpster fire, and it has not disappointed.
Now, it’s a very controversial thing to suggest that the Ethiopian or Azerbaijani governments instigated their wars to coincide with the election. The official story from both governments is that they were attacked by their respective opponents. I am sure we will get those official versions in the comments, and maybe there is even some truth to them. But what’s indisputable is that each of these governments was by far the more powerful party in the conflict, and if they weren’t eager to fight, there wouldn’t be any fighting.
In Azerbaijan’s case it was clear that war was on the cards ever since the Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan abandoned diplomacy in the spring of 2020. There was even a brief conflict in July that Azerbaijan chose not to pursue. They were clearly waiting for the right time. Whether it’s true or not that the Armenians started it, Azerbaijan launched a full scale offensive on September 27th. In a month where the world was focused on US presidential debates and polling, nobody cared. By November 9th, Azerbaijan had captured enough of the territory Armenia had occupied since 1994 that Pashinyan was forced to capitulate almost entirely.
In Ethiopia, it has been clear that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was going to have serious trouble with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front since the end of 2019. The TPLF, the party that dominated the old system, refused to go along with the Prime Minister’s dissolution of the old ruling party, and were unwilling to disarm or participate in the new system. Abiy’s invasion of Tigray was officially a response to a TPLF attack on a military base that nobody has been able to verify. Even if that attack did happen, nobody disputes that the head of a country of 110 million has more power over the course of events than the party that runs a province of 5 million. And Prime Minister Ahmed chose to start his offensive on November 4th, the day we knew the US election results were likely to take weeks to be settled.
And it’s not just local powers like Azerbaijan and Ethiopia doing this. Supposed US rivals like Russia and China also schedule politically difficult operations around US elections. In late August 2020 Russia’s most prominent opposition politician was driven out of the country by attempted assassination. China used the US election period for the long delayed crack down on Hong Kong, after almost two years of protest. People in Washington, DC really don’t want to think through the implications of this.
What the actions of all these countries pretty clearly indicate is that this world very much operates as one system, and that system is under the United States. I usually think it makes more sense to call it the US World System, but US empire is an easier word that works just as well.
This isn’t some kind of super patriotic declaration on my part. Quite the opposite. Because when you acknowledge how much power the US has, our failures over the past 30 years go from looking merely criminal and irresponsible to looking catastrophic. If the world looks like it’s going to hell right now, it is very much my government’s fault.
Thanks for watching please subscribe, and if you want to know why the world looks the way it does, and where we may be heading, you should check out my book, avoiding the British empire, available now for the Amazon kindle and in paperback form. Thanks!