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.
I may have gone a bit overboard with today’s video. It packs what I’ve learned from the three books on Tunisia I have read over the past month into one video, and it may be a bit overstuffed. Even given that, I can already see the angry comments talking about everything I’ve missed. Tunisia has an incredibly complex and lengthy history that led to the successful country it is today. I hope I’ve done it a bit of justice with this video!
Believe it or not, today’s video deals with a surprisingly persistent piece of conventional wisdom. I honestly couldn’t tell you where I picked it up, maybe Niall Ferguson, but it’s something I unthinkingly believed for decades. The idea is that countries that were colonized by the British were better off than those colonized by the French, because of superior British institutions, or better management or whatever. I hardly thought about this old assumption in my two years researching the British Empire. Serious books of history don’t try to make this claim. But once the vids started coming out, it started cropping up in the comments.
This is one of the most fun things about studying history. If you build up a base of knowledge, you can occasionally get these sudden “Ah-Hah!” moments when you realize that something you’ve always believed is unmitigated balderdash. Today’s video wrote itself with very little prompting. If you have a cursory knowledge of the history of the countries in each of the Empires before and after colonization, it becomes clear how silly this old story is. And with this video, I get to make it clear to everybody else too… I love my job.
With today’s video we begin to get into the meat of it… This Avoiding the British Empire series does, in fact, have a point that it is getting to, beyond clever comparisons. This video represents the first half of the main thesis. Considering what we now know about Britain’s power in the 19th century, and how much less power everybody else had… one conclusion becomes inescapable:
World War I was Britain’s fault. I am already getting some pretty shell shocked comments on the video, but not many who dispute the point. I’d love to hear what you think!
I don’t like covering breaking news topics. I’m happy to produce a video on a deep seated issue that gets sparked by something in the news, but I don’t like making predictions or doing video takes about an on-going story (that’s what twitter’s for!). Mid-stream analysis, the bread and butter of the cable news networks, is largely bullshit. Unfortunately, for today’s video, Khalifa Haftar of Libya ambushed me. On March 26th, I promised to do a video on Libya, a topic I had already been researching for a week or two. On April 4th, Khalifa Haftar invaded Western Libya, throwing everything up in the air.
Half of this video was drafted before April 4th. As the news has rolled in, my estimate of Haftar, already pretty negative, continued to plummet. I have tried to make this video consistent and informative in its presentation, but I’m not sure I pulled it off. A video’s title is very much a part of the experience. Usually it just advertises and reflects the content, but I think with today’s video, more buffeted by events than I like, the title may present the conclusion. I shot this video last Thursday, and have continued to research and follow developments as they have come. Haftar is not the savior he is sometimes presented to be. I hope today’s video gets that across.
This video would not have been possible without the International Crisis Group’s Libya coverage. On country after country I have found their work invaluable. They tend to be my starter source for one-shot videos like this where I won’t be reading multiple books.
After today’s video had been shot, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that Haftar has Saudi Arabia’s full support in his destruction of Libya’s chances for a settlement.
I used this headline on Haftar and the Muslim Brotherhood in the video. Keep in mind that the National is a United Arab Emirates publication, so this article may be more useful for what the UAE wants you to think about Libya, than what is actually going on.
I also used this headline from Reuters, and the article provides a nice discussion of Egypt’s shady bombing campaigns in Libya. Reuters is a US publication, so of course it’s going to downplay the fact that Washington, DC is, at root, the responsible party in this nightmare.
Today’s video skirts an interesting question. How much do the US people know about the power our government, financial and legal sectors exercise in the world? My sense is not much. I have this, perhaps naive, hope that if they did have a better sense of that power, they would want the US government to use that power more responsibility. Instead, at this point we’ve got a government and media that actively misleads the people on this topic, and often misleads itself.
A key part of Washington DC’s ability to benefit from ever increasing defense budgets is keeping people scared. Emphasizing that US financial and legal power is capable of shutting down almost any real threat would kind of sabotage that effort. So we pretend that places like Russia and China are somehow independent actors that can do us harm, rather than stakeholders than are almost as wrapped up in benefiting from the status quo as the US is. I dunno. It’s something I think about a lot.
Trump’s tremendous Iran screw up makes me think of the Suez Crisis. But then almost everything does. I may be a little obsessed with the Suez Crisis. There’s a certain poetry to it. Maybe because it’s one of those rare examples of the United States doing the right thing. But as this video explains, it is also a warning. The Suez Crisis is my choice for the end of the British Empire. It’s an example we should all be thinking of more as Donald Trump accelerates the end of the US Empire.
It’s amazing how little most policy makers know about history. If it’s not about Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, they probably haven’t heard of it. This is a real problem. As the stewards of a power that might actually have a few real competitors a couple decades from now, they really need to start learning.
This week I’ve been in Bavaria, a formerly independent region of Germany. This prompted a number of ruminations on Germany, France, and their relative power throughout history. All that inspired this video, which reveals the central fact Washington, DC is missing: There is nothing worse for the power on top than war.