I think about history a lot. And when historians look back to the beginning of this century, I’m beginning to get the sense that the only story they will be able to tell is one of US imperial consolidation. This could easily be just one part of a three-parter, but I don’t think I’m going to bother to tell the other parts of the story, because they are adequately covered elsewhere. Most know that US oil and gas is now dominant in the world, and that the US dollar is stronger than it has ever been. But few understand how much our own foreign policy disasters cleared the way for that dollar and petro-supremacy. With today’s video I lay that out…
Some produced videos take a long time to germinate, this one did not. This script crystallizes a concern I’ve been struggling to express for a couple months now. Sure, the United States has thrown a lot of money at the Ukraine problem, but do we have a strategy? Do we have one at all? I don’t doubt that there are capable people in the Biden administration who could execute such a strategy. In fact, they proposed one, not formally, but with their initial actions, that looks a lot like what today’s video demands. Unfortunately, they were too easily dissuaded from it. In the coming months we’ll begin to hear more about how the world’s options are hyper-inflation and starvation for the poor or some kind of Ukrainian surrender to Russia. But we have, and had more choices than that. As today’s video points out, all this horror could be a great opportunity… but I’m afraid we’re letting it pass us by.
In the month since everybody woke up to what a disaster the Coronavirus pandemic is, it’s been interesting watching people use it as an excuse to push the same things they were already pushing. Conservatives, Socialists, Environmentalists and Nationalists, all of them are eager to tell you that this confirms everything they have been saying all along, and proves that their particular policy priorities should be enacted immediately. Some of them may be right. But one of the most important Washington, DC lobbies is looking a little silly right now. The Military Industrial Complex, that monstrosity that gets close to a trillion dollars a year to keep us safe… did nothing to stop the greatest calamity to befall the homeland since the war of 1812.
But this hasn’t stopped them from pretending that they are still relevant after this extraordinary failure. In alliance with a Trump administration that is desperate to find another scapegoat, they are calling for a deepening of the “New Cold War” against China. They seem to believe that China is “winning” the pandemic somehow. China had what looks like a competent public health response after all, and now it’s flying stuff all over the world to help other countries. Well today’s video is here to tell you that that suspicion is ridiculous. China is not winning this thing. In fact, they are likely to end up the biggest losers.
Ahhh, the Royals… I have successfully avoided reading a single story on the current Meghan Markle / Ginger Prince scandal, but I think I have gotten the gist from twitter. Putting Markle in the thumbnail was obviously a desperate bid for clicks, but it’s also got a tangential relation to the topic of today’s video, beyond the fact that the Royals are briefly discussed at the end of it. As I understand it, Ginger Prince was allowed to marry an American actress because it was seen as good for the institution, modernizing and a helpful way to appeal to new markets. Now the institution is shocked that the changes they hoped were cosmetic might yield more significant changes.
This story is obviously a very specialized thing, but I have a hunch that it’s emblematic of an emerging theme for the United Kingdom over the next half century or so. From free trade agreements, to military commitments and positions on international incidents, the British will continue to make changes that look small and clever in the short run, but end up changing things more than they’d like in the medium to long term. Like the Queen of England this week, the British people will find themselves grumbling as they acquiesce to new arrangements they did not foresee, and would not have chosen had they known they were coming.
The later 20th century was not a big focus of my book, Avoiding the British Empire. I date the end of the British world system to 1914, and the beginning of World War I. The time after than is mostly one of decline. But it had peaks, and the period after 2016 will be seen as a new valley. One of the things that I did study intensely in writing the book was the distinction between “informal” and “formal” empire. The informal empire of financial power was as important, or perhaps more important than all the red bits on the map that were formally controlled by the British Empire.
If you look at it that way, then it’s clear that the European Union represented a new informal empire for Britain. Which makes throwing it away with Brexit quite nuts. I take a more in depth look at this in today’s video.
Some videos come pretty easy, and today’s video is one of them. I really like it when new ways of looking at stuff pop into my head. The more I think about it though, there are other aspects to this I should have included. The shift in the oil market here is pretty extraordinary. It’s actually the birth of a sort of “Super OPEC”. It’s also an OPEC that’s a lot more dangerous for its members. With a US president in charge, especially a US president listening to Texas oilmen, military operations become a potent tool of market making.
The world, and the US, used to have a minimal investment in the stability of petro-states. In the long term, these places should be happier without US supported perma-leaders, but the short term looks increasingly grim. As oil demand peaks, the ballooning US petroleum industry will need to be protected. The US can do this by knocking off competitors one by one. This could be an underappreciated aspect of Libya’s permanent oil crisis since 2011. Petro-states on each side of the conflict have no incentive to get their proxies on the same page and producing more. Venezuela is being knocked out. So is Iran. Destabilizing Iraq would be very easy. Saudi Arabia is super shaky. A broader war in the Middle East would be horrible, but it would be pretty great for the new head of OPEC… The US president.
Foreign Aid is a ridiculously complex topic. I really enjoyed diving into it in today’s video. I’m afraid I probably oversimplified things, but I’m excited to learn more about this topic for future videos. The first thing I noticed about foreign aid, is that contrary to the way we talk about it in US politics, very, very little money goes into this. The exception, from the US perspective, is aid that we give to countries who turn around and use most of the money to buy US weapons. Egypt, Israel, and Jordan, our three largest recipients, are all examples of this. Countries we have destroyed, like Iraq and Afghanistan also get a lot of money, for obvious reasons. As this video illustrates, foreign aid is mostly used for short term political uses, not to pursue larger humanitarian goals.
There certainly are really great things that foreign aid has done. Helping to stamp out AIDS and other diseases in Africa is one great thing we do. But a lot of that is private charity, and all of those efforts combined are chicken feed compared to the military related aid that the US shovels down the throats of multiple countries. The EU structural funds, one of the topics of today’s video, are an example of enlightened self interest. The rich European countries know that the best way to ensure a peaceful continent, and avoid having to have much military spending, is to fire hose money into the poorer countries in the continent. I wish the US did more of this. If the cost of a single aircraft carrier was spent on aid to Tunisia, we could really transform the region, and the world, for the better. It’s a shame we don’t do that.
Today’s video sort of unintentionally ended up being the second video in a series dealing with the ramifications of Donald Trump’s destruction of the Iran Nuclear Deal last year. The more I think about it, the better an “Iran Sanctions” series sounds. It’s interesting how much that one terrible decision will end up driving world politics for the next couple years, if not the next couple decades. Almost every day we see things happening that can in part be traced back to it, including Germany’s reluctance to act against Huawei the way the US wants, reported today.
Today’s video focuses on INSTEX, the new European exchange that is the first stab at building a post-dollar trading and banking system. It may seem like a boring topic, but if you understand it, whole volumes of current and future geopolitical maneuvering will be revealed to you. Today’s video does what very few do, and attempts to describe the history of the secondary sanctions imposed by the US in an engaging way. Supposedly journalism is a first draft of history. I’m kind of excited by the fact that nobody else is attempting that draft this way. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that a history focusing through the lens of the Iran Sanctions will provide a clearer picture of the 2020s than anything else.
This video does a good job of laying out how ridiculous the “Democracy is Dying!!!” story is. But what it doesn’t do is lay out why the story gets so much play. The sad fact is that it’s useful to powerful people in the United States. Once again, it all comes back to the US military industrial complex. The wise men of the Pentagon have realized that “Terrorism” is losing its power as a motivating factor. Despite the best efforts of Trump & Co. it’s obvious that general white loser angst has had a much higher body count in the US over the past decade than “Radical Islamic Terrorism”. So we need something else to be scared of to justify our absurd military budgets. That’s why this narrative gets so much play.
The idea is that if “Democracy is Dying”, the world really is “more dangerous than it ever has been” as the Pentagon keeps telling us. I may do a video on this in the coming weeks… I’d be interested to know how much relevance this story has beyond the national security nerd twitter bubbles I frequent. In those circles this “Democracy is Dying” story has become the conventional wisdom. Is that the sense you get where you are at as well? Let me know in the comments.
One of the best things about my quixotic attempt to cover everything is the way different geographies and times inform my coverage of other places. It’s probably the amount of time I spend looking at 19th century history, and the modern Middle East, that allows me to look at modern Europe in ways that others don’t. It’s not just the EU that makes 21st century Europe a more peaceful place than those other places, but it’s a huge, huge part of it. People are letting that aspect of EU stability fade away, unlamented, and almost unnoticed.
Another issue this video highlights is the reductiveness of the standard view of Europe. My alarmism about the stability of Europe looks ridiculous if you focus on Germany, or France, or even the UK, where the issue of separatism is handled quite politely. But those countries were rarely the main problem with Europe. It was always petty revolutions and squabbles of the smaller countries that made Europe such a dangerous place. If you look for the consequences of the EU’s current weakness in the EU’s core countries you won’t see much, but if you look East, or Southwest, as we do in today’s video, the developing problems become obvious.