It’s been a while since I’ve looked at US involvement in the Middle East in depth. I’ve been doing a deep dive into the history of Yemen for months now, but that was mostly pre-1983, when the US decided to make the Middle East our daily problem with the founding of Centcom. Over the past month or so I’ve dived deep, not just into the “Greater War For the Middle East” (as Andrew Bacevich calls it) but also into the unified combatant command structure that is solidifying US empire all over the world. My view on all of this is… somewhat grim. I hope the video isn’t too much of a downer.
I feel like I’m weirdly a lot more optimistic about American power today than most of the US media is. Today I lay out why I think that may be. The US is reacting to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as some inexplicable horror, another step back towards history’s chaos, and another sign that the American world order is falling to pieces. As more of a cynic, and a student of foreign relations, my sense is that the US world order has been falling apart since at least 2003. What Russia has done in Ukraine, is give us a second chance. By conclusively setting himself up as a more destructive and dangerous actor than the US government, Putin has given the US world order a new lease on life.
What’s vital in this moment is that we seize that opportunity. Europe is now back on our side in ways it hasn’t been for two decades. What we should do now, is try to win over the rest of the world by improving our relations with old enemies that no longer matter. To it’s credit, the Biden administration is already trying to do this with Iran and Venezuela. Unfortunately, they are being blocked by their efforts to do so, and not just by Republicans. I think it’s a failure of understanding. US government and media don’t understand just how bad the situation was, and how valuable a window Russia has given us. Today’s video is my attempt to explain the situation.
One of my favorite description’s of journalism is “writing the first draft of history”. I would certainly never presume to call myself a journalist, but I am definitely interested in history drafting. That’s definitely what I’m attempting with today’s video. I have already published a fair amount on Afghanistan, first in short angry bursts, and then in a longer live version. This is my first attempt to reckon with the legacy of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal with a full, produced video. Among foreign policy nerds like me, there is a growing consensus that Joe Biden saved both the Afghan and American people from decades of horror by biting the bullet and dragging the US military out of there. The problem is that nobody is publicizing this emerging consensus. What the voters, and the pollsters every president listens to, will remember is the two week media freak out that we all saw in late August and Early September. That’s a very bad thing, if we ever want a US president to end a war again. No matter how disappointed I am in other areas (Yemen!), I think it’s vital to celebrate Joe Biden’s Afghanistan success. So that’s what today’s video does.
I have been reading a lot about China lately, and the more I read, the more disturbed I get about the way Taiwan is currently discussed in the United States. For half a century this topic has been understood as the mother of all red lines when it comes to US-China relations. That is no longer the case for discussions in the United States. I am pretty sure it’s still a massive red line for China. Uncharacteristically, I now do think there is a chance of war between the US and China. But because of US aggression, not US withdrawal…
This one is less about concrete ideas around India and Pakistan than it is a call to arms (or a call against arms) for everybody to learn more about the topic. The gap between the importance of this conflict and the amount of knowledge analysts, let alone the general public, have about it is vast. India and Pakistan are some of the largest countries on the planet, they have nuclear weapons, and they have the sort unsettled borders and over-powerful militaries that make further conflict more likely than not. Today’s video makes the case for making the region the channel’s next big project.
Heeere we go! With this channel’s 500th video, we’re asking the audience to decide what we should cover next! Should it be Israel and Palestine? Should it be Afghanistan, Pakistan and India? Should it be US Empire? This isn’t a question of what I’m covering next week, but what my next, big, multi-year project will be. It’s the 2$ and up patrons that get to pick between these three options…
I can’t seem to find it, but I believe it was Keynes who has this wonderful quote on the fact that so much of the world around us is shaped by the ideas of long-dead thinkers who nobody actually reads and whose names have been largely forgotten. Today’s video is about one of those thinkers, Halford Mackinder. He’s not a household name, but he creeps around the margins of any large history book you will read, and he still inspires a lot of bad foreign and domestic policy in countries all over the world. His “World Island” or “Heartland” thesis is part of the list of justifications people will offer for interventionist US foreign policy. But Mackinder’s influence always remains somewhat subterranean. Because it kind of has to. Because his ideas are crap.
If you actually read one of Mackinder’s books, which I did, his ideas sound more like a half-assed dungeons and dragons game than a serious theory of history and politics. And when you dive in and examine his assumptions about the upcoming 20th century, you realize they were all wrong. His idea of looking at geopolitics as a whole is rightly influential. His actual ideas about geopolitics and their future are frankly laughable. It’s amazing how influential you can get if you give a veneer of respectability to the paranoid visions of militarists. Today’s video demolishes Mackinder’s ideas.
With today’s video I try something new. Most of my video scripts come to me more fully formed, in a rush of inspiration. With this “Avoiding the British Empire” series, I’m trying something more ambitious. The first 9 episodes of the video series are meant to work with each other, building the case, and helping viewers arrive at a picture of the world that grows with each installment. The series is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure this has been entirely successful. I tend to focus on making discrete points and individually successful videos. My writing process is like that as well. This series is the first I can think of, where multiple videos started out as “Oh, I need to do this in this video”, rather than as a loose collection of thematically related issues. Many of the videos in the series predated the over-arching series structure. Today’s video did not. What do you think?
I have always found Algeria fascinating. It’s weirdly distinct from the rest of the Arab world. This has always been true, but it’s been especially so since the Arab Spring in 2011, an event that Algeria sat out, almost uniquely.
Most countries in the Arab world are either small or profoundly beat up. They have all lost their independence to one extent or each other, victims of Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolutionary efforts since the Arab Spring. Even Egypt, a country of 80 million that used to lead the Arab world, is reduced to taking hand outs from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Not Algeria.
Over the past two months, Algeria has been experiencing its own protest movement, and its strong man has been dethroned. People are expecting things to take a similar path to earlier Arab Spring debacles. That’s possible, but in this video I argue things may turn out differently. Because Algeria is stronger than you think it is.