A number of months back I ran a poll asking which of a selection of geopolitics YouTubers I should do a review of. I was surprised to see Whatifalthist win the poll dramatically. The few videos of his I had watched had struck me as inoffensive and vaguely amusing. Having now done a deeper dive, it’s clear I was missing a lot. This kid, and I do mean kid, I think he’s like 22, does delightfully nerdy deep dives on European history, but his takes on countries and events outside of “Western Civilization” are sometimes… problematic. As I looked into it further, I was surprised to find that he has a lot of the same educational gaps and right wing ideological hang-ups that I did when I was 22. It’s an odd artifact of our age that he is working out his ideas with an audience in the hundreds of thousands. I don’t think he should be pilloried for it. This was an interesting video to write. If I were criticizing someone with serious institutional backing, or over the age of 25, I think I would have been a lot harsher. But this kid literally seems to have grown up on-line, starting a YouTube channel half his lifetime ago to answer fun nerd questions. I’m not sure I got the balance right. Let me know what you think.
What a fascinating process. My general curmudgeonly attitude has kept me from doing much collaboration. Today is an exception I think I would like to make a rule. A number of months back I reached out to one of the most successful geopolitics YouTubers for advice. Shirvan of Caspian Report was generous with his time, and you may have noticed how some of his suggestions have worked their way into the MFF vids (stock footage, length). In the spring, Shirvan suggested we collaborate on a project. Caspian Report has about 30x more subscribers, and his videos are typically viewed 200 times more often than mine are. Shirvan is a generous guy. It took a number of months circling to find the right project, but today we’re finally publishing them both! A video on my channel and a video on his… I hope you enjoy them!
I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to Tunisia. I have been making the same argument on here since 2016, but people keep not listening. Considering the amount of damage the US has done to Tunisia’s neighborhood, and considering the value of Tunisia’s democratic experiment for the long term interests of the United States (going back to George Washington), the US and Europe should just be giving the country money. Not loans, not conditional, but just outright gifts in an attempt to keep its democracy going. It’s been about two years since I’ve made that argument, so with today’s video I trot it out again…
We are obsessed with globalization. Whether we are celebrating it, as we did for most of my adult life, or condemning it, as seems to be becoming the fashion, it’s an omnipresent topic. But we don’t always follow through on that obsession to recognize globalization’s effects. On Saturday morning, as I worked my way through Martin Meredith’s Fate of Africa, a history of the continent since independence, I feel like one of the gaps in my understanding slammed shut. If you’re a current events nerd like me, you’ve probably read dozens of reports over the years, agonizing over how hard it seems to be for many African countries to get it together. But for some reason these potted histories of Africa all leave out the most important factor in those many failures. Today’s video is an attempt to correct those potted histories. I hope you enjoy it!
Comparative history is not an exact science. It can be a fraught business. I’m sure there are a number of ways in which today’s video could be portrayed as condescending or even a bit racist. “What do you mean Ethiopia is 100 years behind Europe!!!”. But comparative history is too useful a tool, to not use. Unfortunately, it’s often used poorly. With this video, and a follow up I’m still drafting, I hope to debunk some of the dumber comparisons that are made. I also want to show that while Ethiopia’s civil war is horrible, it’s not really much of a detour from normal development.
I have meant to do a series on frozen conflicts for a while, and I’m glad that my North Africa focus has finally led me to do a video on one of the oldest and dumbest. The frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union are probably the most famous, including Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Transdneistria, Ossetia and South Abhkazia in Georgia, and now Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. These conflicts are famously a way for the dastardly Putin to keep his border unstable, and maintain a Russian sphere of influence. The conflicts that the US maintains aren’t generally referred to this way, but they serve the same purpose. Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria are also frozen or lukewarm conflicts that the United States maintains for its own (wrongly) perceived strategic interest.
Most of these conflicts are unlikely to be solved, because a regional or world power has an interest in them. That’s not the case for Western Sahara. France definitely has an interest in the continued fight between Morocco and Algeria, but nobody else does really. The fact that this conflict has derailed Moroccan-Algerian relations for almost 50 years is just dumb, as I explain in today’s video.
One of the best things about doing commentary on YouTube is the feedback. Tuesday’s video is the second installment of my series on Algeria. It covers a lot of the same territory as my first video on Algeria, which was mostly just an appreciation of the country’s amazing history. But by posting that first video, I got a ton of comments that helped to guide some reading on my part, that helped me form more confirmed opinions on the country and its history. Tuesday’s video has gotten some very flattering appreciation. A handful of Algerian commentators have pointed out that my coverage is worlds better than any other English language source. This is less a celebration of my work than an indication of how bad US coverage of the country is more generally. I read two books, one of which I don’t find particularly trustworthy, and read about 1,000 YouTube comments, half of which were one sentence critiques of my figures and my neglect of the Berber population. With just that, I was able to do a better job talking about the country than almost any English language journalist. I’m kind of proud of that, but it’s also pretty sad.
All that said, while I’ve gotten a few very positive comments on this video, I’ve gotten many more that are pretty negative. Now that I’m diving deeper into the politics of the country, and making opinions, I’ve triggered a negative reaction. But I take heart from the fact that most of what people are complaining about is my read on the politics of the moment, and what people think of the current president. Nobody is complaining about my take on the history leading up to this year anymore. And with my next video on Algeria, probably a year or so from now, I’ll be able to incorporate criticisms of others. Iterative analysis. I like it.
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…