This one was a bit of an ordeal, honestly. A full 30 minutes of produced video, which is only part three of four, got a bit daunting. Every step of the way was a bit of a struggle. I hope it’s worth watching. Heading back to do more YouTube Drama before I attempt “Yemen vs. Empire” Part 4.
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.
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.
It’s amazing how little investment the US has in the priorities of our allies. It’s well established that our foreign policy establishment is utterly incapable of seeing anything from the perspective of any of our “adversaries”. This would be a tremendous problem if the United States were actually in anything like a real competition with anybody. The dumbest actor in a contest rarely wins. But it’s not a contest. At this point, we’re so much more powerful than any of our opponents that it just doesn’t matter (leaving aside moral questions). What we should be doing, in this waning, but still present historical moment, is building up our position with allies, and working to stretch this sweet spot out as long as possible. We’re doing the exact opposite of that, of course.
A system that wants to stand the test of time needs to be aware of, and at least not obstruct, the wishes of smaller members of that system. As today’s video illustrates, we’re not doing that. Our oldest and strongest allies in Europe have opted to kick off the “New Cold War” by committing to an investment agreement… with China. This should be a wake up call. I doubt it will be.
Four years in, and after the absurdly good opportunity the pandemic provided, I think it’s pretty clear that Donald Trump is not the authoritarian I was so worried about back in 2016. He may have wanted to be, but he doesn’t have the capacity. That doesn’t mean my country is safe though. We’ve got a pretty good model of where a the flounderings of a clownish can lead a country. Boris Yeltsin is that model. And if the US produces a Putin, he or she will be a lot scarier than anything Russia can muster in the 21st century.
Today’s video hints at something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. We all know China’s great internet firewall as a source of great repression. But China’s maintenance of a separate national internet has also left it weirdly independent of the US tech giants that rule the internet everywhere else.
China has worked hard to co-opt the newest of the Tech behemoths, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX. General Motors and other foreign car companies battled for decades to build up their competitive position in China. Musk was building a massive factory in China under favorable terms before he sold his millionth (100,000th?) car. China was wise to try to get this guy on their side, but as today’s video explains, it’s unlikely to work out well for them in the long term…
I’d like to make more videos in this vein, thinking through the outside power of tech companies and what it means for geopolitics, but that depends on how this video does. If you like it, share it around…
Puerto Rico should not be a partisan political issue in the United States. The Democrats contemplate the idea of Puerto Rican statehood with glee, imagining that the Spanish speaking public will automatically vote for their party. Donald Trump is using Puerto Rico as yet another stage for his performative racist bullshit. Both sides are missing out on how important the island is to US national security.
This is part of a troubling trend in US politics that continues to grow. We’re really in the last couple decades of being able to ignore everything about world politics. Instead of using this time to position ourselves more intelligently, we’re turning more and more of our national security issues into partisan footballs. Iran, Israel, Puerto Rico, and now Ukraine have become partisan issues, making everybody dumber, and making the world a more dangerous place. Today’s video is a small attempt to push back against this wave of stupid.
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.
I continue to be stunned by how little attention is paid to the issues raised in this video. The petty geopolitics of the Middle East and even Eastern Europe are nothing compared to the threat of Russia’s rickety nuclear program. We managed to get along with and do deals with the Soviets, who had a system committed to our destruction, why can’t we get on with vaguely authoritarian Russia? Especially when the main thing driving Russian authoritarianism is legitimate resentment of two decades of aggressive moves against Russia by NATO.
When the next nuclear accident or dirty bomb happens, or, god forbid, the first actual piece of nuclear terrorism, it will absolutely be the result of the break down in the relationship between Russia and the US. Russia is a ramshackle place that needs our aid and cooperation to keep nuclear materials from disappearing into the black market, not an arms race. But the anti-Russia drum beat continues. At least twice since I made this video, just over two weeks ago, Trump’s willingness to work with Russia has been used as a club against him. First his suggestion that Putin be invited back to the G-7 was held against him, and now it’s his slow-walking of lethal aid to Ukraine. Whether Trump has been bribed by Russia or not, these are both pro-peace moves!
Importantly, they are also ways that we could bring Russia back to the table, and avert the next nuclear disaster. Which is vastly more important than whatever concerns we may have in Ukraine or Syria. I guess this won’t be obvious until that disaster happens. Sigh.