Geopolitics Entrepreneur Peter Zeihan has been one of the most requested topics on this channel for the past couple years. I’ve put together a couple less formal videos dealing with his ideas, but this is the first produced effort. I decided I had to do it after Zeihan’s Joe Rogan appearance at the beginning of this year. A very amateurish, years old, clip critiquing Zeihan quickly became one of my channel’s most viewed videos. Here’s hoping this much more carefully crafted video does well!
It’s absurd how little we know about what the United States is up to in Africa. Because people care about it more, there is a fair amount of scrutiny of US actions in the Middle East. But in Africa the Pentagon has been doing essentially whatever it wants, with very little scrutiny… for over 20 years now! With today’s video I attempt to use some recent reporting to pull the veil back a bit.
It’s always interesting to see what it takes to go big on YouTube. In my second critique of the YouTuber Kraut, I analyze his biggest video ever, “Trump’s Biggest Failure”. This thing has racked up over four million views over the past five years. Kraut is very skilled at his medium, and is very intelligent. But I think it’s very telling that his most successful video, by a factor of four or so, is so very standard in its views. It’s more compelling and fun in its presentation, but this video on China is basically a Pentagon briefing or a Cable news special in its content. I wonder if there’s a broader lesson there?
I hope you enjoy this latest “YouTube Drama” video. Stuff like this keeps the channel ticking over so I can produce less popular but more worthwhile content.
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.