Man, #Brexit just keeps getting worse. I’m very pleased with how this video on the Northern Ireland problem performed. A month later it’s got over 14K views, which is more than enough to consider it a success. What’s more, I got a ton of positive feedback from all over on how well it dealt with the issue… in addition to the usual nastygrams. It appears that there are a lot of Brexit supporters in the UK who have not given this issue any thought at all. As the chaos has spun up over the past month, Northern Ireland has gotten even less attention. UK Prime Minister Boris’s inability to get the Parliament to do anything has raised hopes that we will get past the October 31st deadline with another extension, this mess will drag on for another year or so, Brexit could never happen, and maybe nobody will ever have to think about Ireland’s troubles ever again. I’m not so optimistic. In fact, I’ve got a kind of disastrous scenario for this month that’s been bugging me.
Most assume that the UK government will be bullied into asking the EU for another extension. I agree that that will probably happen. It’s what happens after that’s more suspect. Everybody assumes that if Boris asks, the EU will grant another three to six months of time for fiddling about. The EU doesn’t want a no-deal either. But what if the calculation is wrong? My understanding is that all 27 EU countries need to vote unanimously to grant another extension. What if just one of those countries decides “fuck it!”? A no-deal Brexit would be bad for Europe, but the past three years of indecision and investment stagnation have been pretty bad too. It’s quite possible that Britain will ask for another extension this month, and the EU will say no. I’m not someone that thinks No-Deal will be as instantly catastrophic as advertised. At this point, it would have to kill more people than the bubonic plague to be spun as anything other than “not as bad as they said it would be”. But I do believe the long term result will be terrible for the UK eventually, and in Northern Ireland almost immediately.
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.
Over the next couple weeks I intend to get into China in more detail. I’ve certainly covered China in the past, sometimes discounting the idea that they pose a threat to the US today, but at other points hinting that the US-China relationship SHOULD be our main priority. There is no contradiction here. To clarify that approach, with today’s video I’m returning to my old World War 3 series. The name of the playlist is of course an SEO bid for eyeballs, but it also goes beyond that.
With today’s vid World War 3 IV, I dispel some myths about China’s rise, and point out why it can be an opportunity rather than a threat. I’ve already got the next two installments written, which dive deep into what Syria means for the US-China relationship, and why we should get out of it. I’m very pleased with how this series is developing, and like the idea of revisiting it each year. Check out this playlist I’ve built, that intersperses the vids with other relevant videos from the back catalog…
This video explains one of literacy’s most important effects. I’ve long been puzzled by the “Long Peace” we’ve been experiencing since the end of the second World War. Despite what our media tells us, the world is much more peaceful than it has ever been. There has been very little war between great powers since WWII, and the pace of civil wars has slackened greatly since the end of the Cold War as well. Even more importantly, the great powers have not been able to exploit this period of peace to beat up on everybody else they way they have in the past.
Europe experienced a great period of peace from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 until the Crimean War in the 1850’s. Even that war was a relatively quick, if costly, break in a period of peace stretching up until World War I (1914). During that period of time however, Europe extended over the whole world, crushing indigenous peoples and empires all around the globe. It was peace for Europe, and suffering for everybody else. This time it has been different. This video lays out why Literacy has a lot more to do with this than is currently recognized.
Saudi Arabia is a US colony. It owes its existence to the British Empire, and it owes its continued existence to the United States. This is not widely known. Folks just assume that Saudi Arabia was always there, they got lucky with oil, and now we’re stuck with them. That’s not how it went at all. It’s probably worth documenting this claim in a longer blog post than normal. It’s a bit too complex to wrap into this video.
The Saud family, and its nasty relationship with religious extremism does go back a ways. I document this relationship at length in the essay, which I recommend you buy. They managed to put together a pretty impressive, if briefly lived state in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They held Mecca and Medina briefly, from 1802 to 1818. They were booted out of there by an Ottoman Egyptian Army. The Saud family then managed to put together another chunk of land based around Riyadh, but by the 1890s they were refugees, forced to seek shelter in Kuwait. If you’d picked a family ca. 1910 to end up the most powerful (and possibly richest) of the last royal families standing it certainly wouldn’t have been the Sauds.
Which is where the British empire stepped in. In 1915 the British were fighting World War I against the Ottoman Empire, among others. They were looking to support any Arab leader they could against the Ottomans, who had controlled the Middle East since the 1500s. Have you seen Lawrence of Arabia? That’s about the British support given to the Hashemite family, that had ruled Mecca for hundreds of years. The Arab Revolt that made Lawrence a celebrity was led by Faisal of the Hashemites. This was all lovely, stuck it to the Ottomans, and turned Faisal into a somewhat internationally respected figure.
This presented the British with a problem when the war ended in 1918. They had Faisal, a well respected, charismatic leader, with established connections to the Arab urban centers, and some modernizing instincts. Faisal had a pan-Arab mindset, and envisioned a unified, powerful and developing Arab state, stretching from his family’s territory in Mecca and Medina as far as Damascus and Baghdad, and maybe beyond. This was more or less what he had been promised during the War, and he went to the Paris Peace conference to press his case.
But the British didn’t want that. They wanted the territory for themselves. They got it, establishing “Mandates” in Palestine and Iraq. The Brits got Baghdad and Jerusalem, and the French got Damascus, establishing what became the ill-fated state of Syria. Arabia, or rather all the unimportant and desert bits of Arabia were left to the Hashemites. But not just the Hashemites. The British continued to support the Sauds, with cash subsidies, and a ton of surplus munitions from the war. It depends who you read, but many sources maintain that the British subsidies were the only thing keeping the dirt poor and enthusiastically anti-modern Saudi army going.
If you were the British who would you rather support as a neighbor? A charismatic descendant of the prophet, experienced in international diplomacy? Or a bunch of desert whackos? The desert whackos looked a lot less threatening. The British continued to support both families, but it’s unlikely that they were all that disturbed when the Sauds came screaming out of the desert and took Mecca and Medina in 1925. This conquest was accompanied by strikingly ISIS like destruction of ‘idolatrous’ Muslim heritage sites and massacres of non-combatants. The British didn’t lift a finger to help the Hashemites reclaim their historic lands. They felt a bit bad though, so they made Faisal King of Iraq. In May 1953 his descendants were massacred, and the monarchy was ended in one of Iraq’s many brutal changes of government. King Abdullah II of Jordan is the last ruling member of the Hashemite dynasty, descended from one of Faisal’s brothers. The Sauds got Mecca and Medina, the de facto leadership of Sunni Islam, and extraordinary oil wealth. The Hashemites got that really cool set from the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The British catch a lot of flack for their mishandling of the Israel-Palestine issue, but if you ask me, their creation of Saudi Arabia is a lot more unforgivable.