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.
John Oliver is an interesting figure. He’s probably the closest thing we have to an H.L. Mencken, or an Upton Sinclair in our modern digital age. I haven’t watched him consistently since the first or second season of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, which premiered back in 2014. But whenever he covers something that I’m interested in, I’ll check him out. Usually his take makes me less angry than any other mainstream perspective. The main virtue of his approach is that he gives a single topic 20 minutes to a half hour of his show. Whether the segment is more muck-raking or educational, he’s always able to cover more of the story than any three minute segment. But not even John Oliver is immune to military industrial complex propaganda. Per usual, he does better than most, but even he left some important stuff out in his recent video on Taiwan. So I corrected it for him…
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.
Nobody has any idea how history is going to go. But it’s fun to try to predict it. I have a hunch that this AUKUS agreement, deepening military ties between Australia, the UK and the US, is really bad news. But even if it is absolutely the right thing to do, it is a lot more significant than the amount of attention it is getting. It was momentarily a big topic of discussion among geopolitics nerds like myself, but quickly faded. This is weird, because even if everything I said in this video turns out to be wrong, AUKUS is definitely a bigger deal than the withdrawal from Afghanistan we spent weeks agonizing about. An Asian NATO is now a concrete reality, and we know a lot more about what the next few decades will look like in Asia than we did two weeks ago. It’s a big deal. Here’s my very pessimistic take on what it all means.
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…
Does the United States do any strategic thinking at all? During the Cold War the United States was focused on defeating the Soviet Union, and everything was secondary to that. Even the insult of the explicitly anti-American Iranian revolution was largely ignored in the name of fighting the Soviets. The US government colluded in arming Iran during the 1980s after all. But for the thirty years since the cold war it really hasn’t been about focus… it’s been about finding or creating the enemies necessary to keep the defense money flowing. We’ve been going everywhere and been acting as offensively as possible to keep the world dangerous.
We have clearly reached the limits of that approach. Biden’s supposed withdrawal from Afghanistan (I’ll believe it when I see it) could be an early recognition of this. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but when we’re on the border of an enemy that cares infinitely more about a piece of territory than we do, like Ukraine or Iraq or Taiwan, we can’t effortlessly exert our will anymore. If we continue to act as unwisely as we have in the past two decades, we seriously risk getting caught out in a much more serious way than the Iraq disaster. The most obvious way this could happen would be if we somehow blunder into a simultaneous war with Iran and China, in two different regions. With today’s video I examine that possibility, and come to the obvious conclusion that the best thing we can do for the security of Taiwan is get back into the Iran nuclear deal. Fewer enemies mean we might be able to more effectively compete in the rivalries we maintain.
I have been meaning to get today’s video out for quite a while now. I didn’t plan on it, but it’s coming out at a pretty useful time as well. After months of dithering, and posing for the benefit of hawks in the United States, the Biden administration has finally sat down to talks with the Iranian government. It’s not clear why they need to talk, the Iranian position is pretty clear… Iran will comply fully with the JCPOA if the US complies fully. But nonetheless, it is a heartening step that the negotiations have finally started. I am happy to be making this argument for the Iran Nuclear Deal at this time. This video is meant to persuade. I tried to make it less angry and more shareable than some of my other videos on the topic. If you think I succeeded, please share it widely.
I have been meaning to get this, and its follow on videos, out there since November. It’s pretty clear to me what Biden has to do to ensure that Donald Trump does not find his way back to the white house. I’m sure it’s not surprising that I think foreign policy is key to this. I’m biased for sure. But it really does seem clear to me that ending the forever wars isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s also the best way for Biden to achieve political success. It’s just such low-hanging fruit politically speaking.
This one’s a little ambitious. I hope it will make up for the serious lack of produced videos so far this month. Despite only reading like half a dozen books, and following the news from the region only half-heartedly, with today’s video I’m rolling out my grand theory of Latin America. The parallels between what happened two centuries ago and what is happening today seem too obvious. I really believe that Latin America is going through it’s second wave of independence as we speak, except this time, it’s the United States it’s gaining its freedom from. As an over-arching theory I think it has some explanatory power. I can’t wait to see people poke holes in it in the comments!
I have been thinking about this video for years now. The thing I’m most proud of in this one is the way it attempts to tell the whole story of a region through two world systems, the British and the American one. Hey, if YouTube demands longer videos, no reason not to be ambitious with them.