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.
Today’s video, in addition to almost being late, and a lot more difficult to put together than most, tries something new. Rather than talk about what is, or what was, I go in depth on what could happen if we continue on our current path. Essentially today’s video is science fiction. I’d like to do more of this. There isn’t enough imagination in foreign policy discussion. There should be more thinking about where we are going. This can be pretty negative, like today’s forecast of how a war between the US and Iran would go. But it can also be positive.
There’s an assumption that politics and geopolitics should be serious, boring stuff. This is a problem, because it fundamentally misunderstands what we’re dealing with here. Everything in government and politics is based on fantasy. Everybody’s trying to figure out what comes next, and also imagine it. Not reckoning with this fact has led to people taking the past 15 years of US foreign policy seriously, which is a terrible mistake. It’s had very serious consequences, but it’s basically one big practical joke that everybody is expected to take seriously for some reason.
I read a lot. It’s roughly 75% history, and 25% science fiction. Some might see that 25% as recreational, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. History is the study of the past, Science Fiction is the study of the future. By looking at both, I think I get better at understanding the present. Which is a long way of saying I might be doing more Sci-Fi themed vids like today’s in the recent future.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression of British Afghanistan policy here. In today’s video I point out that US Afghanistan policy is infinitely dumber than British Afghanistan policy, and that’s very true. But British Afghanistan policy was pretty dumb as well. What they did better was run a leaner and more effective occupation. They’d go in every few decades, kill some folks, and then bribe the folks who were left to not deviate from British policy too much. They had learned early on, in the First Anglo-Afghan War from 1839-1842, how little profit, and how much cost Afghanistan could produce. They had attempted to occupy the place with British and Indian forces, and managed to lose their entire army, with the sole exception of William Brydon, the fellow who graces this video’s thumbnail. So the British Empire wised up, tactically anyway.
What was dumb about British policy is the fact that they were there in the first place. Afghanistan, and much of modern Pakistan were only added to the British Empire out of fear. British leaders, and much of the British public were obsessed with an enemy that didn’t pose much of a real threat. The Russian Tsar was supposedly going to sweep out of the steppes and threaten Britain’s lucrative colonies along the Asian coasts. This was always a ridiculous proposition. British India had more railroads than all of the Russian Empire combined up until the 20th century. In the 19th century the Russians had put together a very large, and largely empty empire across the top of Asia. If they had tried their hand at Afghanistan or the Punjab they would have gotten their heads handed to them even more quickly than the British had. Even this was unlikely, because the Russians probably lacked the capacity to get a full 19th century army into the area anyway. But the British fell prey to irrational fears, and ended up taking on a whole lot of lands and responsibilities they had no real use for. Which ended up destroying their empire.
I probably don’t have to emphasize the obvious parallels between what the British did in Afghanistan, and what the US is doing in the Middle East out of fear of Iran today. Both of these policies are idiotic. So while the British may have done a better job managing Afghanistan, the fact that they were there at all means that there is little more to admire about British Afghanistan policy than there is in US Afghanistan policy.
Watching today’s video, I don’t think I really hammered home the point I was trying to make with the section on Wolf Warrior 2. So let me do that here. The Chinese public is being primed to embrace the idea of “humanitarian” intervention in Africa. Modern China doesn’t have much of a history of international adventuring (other than scoring points on its borders with India and Vietnam), but “Chinese Hollywood” is doing its best to build support for it. The Chinese public apparently has a tremendous appetite for this kind of film. If you look at this list of the biggest Chinese blockbusters you can get a sense of just how dominant Wolf Warrior 2 has been. But following up in second place we have this year’s Operation Red Sea, which is apparently a vastly exaggerated recounting of the Chinese Navy’s extraction of Chinese nationals from the war zone in Yemen.
I actually sat through both of the Wolf Warrior movies, and I have a very long twitter thread to show for it. I’d recommend you read that twitter thread. The first Wolf Warrior film presented a very standard, and very old message. Essentially: “Leave Us Alone!”. The first film provided a bit of weird cognitive dissonance for this American viewer. It was profoundly odd to see all the tropes of large scale US action film making translated into a Chinese context. It was weird fun, but there was little in the message presented to object to.
As you’ll see if you read the twitter thread, Wolf Warrior 2 was not fun. It was downright scary. The messages presented were heavily in favor of intervention, and the whole movie implied that China had a responsibility to help the poor defenseless Africans its with massive military power. This is of course just a mirror image of the messages that Hollywood has been pumping into the US public for decades. It’s profoundly disturbing to see China’s nationalist messaging moving in the same direction. But that’s what is happening. Wolf Warrior 3 is apparently going to be about fighting terrorists. It’s really, really sad to see China adopting the worst parts of US militarist ideology. It’s hard to see how it won’t eventually lead to conflict, as I point out in today’s video.
Oh, and if you want to check out my whole “World War 3” series thus far, which takes a serious look at how this conflict, which I view as being decades off, might take place you can check it out here…
I wanted to address another aspect of the comparison between Pakistan and Turkey that the cursed article I talk about in today’s video mentions briefly. The article does concede that Pakistan’s dictator led Islamification under Zia ul-Haq was a completely different example than the attempts at Islamification currently being carried out by Turkey’s elected president Erdogan. As I point out in the video, Pakistan remains desperately poor today and this was even more the case in the 1980’s. Zia was using Islam as tool for nation-building. It remains a key part of Pakistan’s sense of itself as a nation today.
As I laid out in my other twovideos on Islam in Turkey, Erdogan does not have the blank slate to work with that Pakistan’s Zia did. Pakistan of course, unlike Saudi Arabia, has an endlessly rich and varied history. But very few among a population that mostly couldn’t read, and was living on the brink of starvation, were able to benefit from that history and culture. Turkey has a very distinct sense of nationalism that is quite separate from Islam, and that is internalized across the population. No matter how powerful Erdogan becomes, he will not be able to eradicate those underpinnings.
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.