One of the saddest things about running a channel focused on geopolitics is realizing just how little the US government actually knows about the world beyond our borders. It’s not just the Trump administration, this problem is universal. At the beginning of April, the Trumpsters doubled down on their Venezuela policy, taking a number of steps to intimidate the Maduro government. Many critics complained about the timing, questioning whether this was the right moment to use military resources in this way. But as far as I have seen, nobody attacked the ridiculous premise at the center of the new policy.
By indicting Maduro as a drug trafficker in the US, and then initiating military exercises focused on his country, Trump’s Venezuela guy, Elliott Abrams, and the rest are trying to draw a direct parallel with Panama, a country the US invaded successfully in 1989. What’s obvious to anybody with a map, but not to anybody discussing Venezuela policy in Washington DC, is that Panama is a very, very different country from Venezuela. Today’s video lays out the simple facts.
Two weeks later, it is beginning to look like I got fooled again, and the United States is not in fact leaving Northern Syria. But I’m not as crushingly disappointed as I was the last couple times Trump pulled this back in December of 2018, or back in March of 2018. After telling everybody we were withdrawing, we are apparently going back to Northern Syria to “take the oil”. I’m not as bothered by this, because this Syrian intervention is just too ridiculous to survive.
US intervention in Syria has always been darkly absurd and absurdly selfish. We spent billions to take down Assad, which created ISIS, which weirdly ended up with us spending billions to protect Assad from the Islamic State in the most convoluted way possible. But this new Trump initiative is too absurd to last. Trump seems to think he can just steal the oil, which is a moral and legal atrocity. The horror of it wouldn’t keep it from happening, but what will keep it from lasting is the pointlessness. Despite massive efforts from OPEC, Oil can’t get over 60 dollars a barrel, and Syria doesn’t have much oil at all. Neither Exxon nor any other US company has any serious interest in getting involved in something with such high risk and such little reward. The Pentagon isn’t actually arguing for Trump’s silly heist plan. What they want is to keep the oil from Assad, to keep the civil war going, and they are saying that they want to keep it from ISIS, which is pretty ridiculous, because as I’ve repeated again and again, it’s US involvement that keeps ISIS going.
The reason none of this really bothers me is that it can’t possibly last. When I ran a video last year claiming that Washington DC had won the war in Syria, it was the Kurds that were at the heart of that victory. The Kurds, or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were the perfect imperial tool for the United States. Because of the threat from Turkey, they were a capable militia force that desperately wanted to keep the United States in Syria for as long as possible. Thanks to Trump’s weird choices, the SDF is now protected by Assad, not the United States. And Assad happens to be the legal sovereign authority in Syria. He wants his oil back, and if anybody in the US or the world wants to preserve a pretense of international rule of law we will have to give it to him. This oil adventure could last as long as a year or two, but US power in Syria has been comprehensively broken, and that’s something that Syria, the world, and the people of the United States can continue to be grateful for. And, very weirdly, as this video shows, we owe it to Donald Trump.
As I said in today’s video, invading countries is a really stupid thing to do in the 21st century. It’s something I think about a lot, and it’s not focused on enough. It’s one of the best things about modern living. We tell ourselves that the United States doesn’t take territory like old empires because we’re such nice folks. This isn’t really backed up by the historical record. The US spent 50 years failing to subject the Philippines to imperial control as one example. If Iraq had worked out, the Bush administration famously wanted to build a broader empire in the middle east in quick succession. Nationalism quite rightly has a bad reputation, but this is one of its nicer aspects. Folks really care about who rules them today. Independence is something that is valued. Literate, nationalist masses, plus readily available explosives makes the old school kind of empire impossible. So even the most powerful countries find that conquest is too expensive.
It’s interesting to me that this principle isn’t more widely understood. It’s clear from almost every conflict the US has been involved in since World War II, yet we keep jumping into new countries and expecting different results. I suspect that the difficulty of conquest does not make it into most discussion of national security, because it would make it too clear how useless a lot of our military spending is. The Military Industrial Complex needs to pretend that conquest is still a thing that happens.
In recent years the focus of the channel has changed. I dive in deep on what’s going on in certain countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen. This new, in depth approach has been great for the channel, and I think it also makes for much better videos. When something comes up with one of those countries, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, and I usually have some good, under-covered context to add to the conversation. Writing those scripts rarely takes more than 5 or 6 hours. My research on those countries is constantly on-going, and I don’t have to think too hard to put together something I’m proud of.
This one was different. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, I only promise to do a better job than any cable news channel. This is super easy with the countries I’ve been covering for years. Venezuela is new for me. For years I’ve wanted to do more Latin America coverage, but I haven’t had the time to do the in depth reading that is necessary. It’s impossible to avoid having an opinion on Venezuela of course, but they are not really “MY” opinions. It’s what I’ve been force fed by other news sources. That made writing this one super tough. I had to try to cut through the layers of bullshit and say something original. The story of what’s really behind Venezuela’s drop in oil production was one I’ve wanted to tell since May, but the framing was super difficult. I just don’t have the necessary context, which I hope I made clear… Today’s video went through multiple drafts over multiple weeks. I hope you think it was worth the wait!
I don’t necessarily have too much trouble with hypocrisy. Any adult realizes that we’re all hypocrites to some degree. But we should know what we’re doing. And the level of hypocrisy illustrated in today’s video is pretty extraordinary. Yemen and Ukraine are two of the world’s hot spots. Essentially the same thing is happening in both countries. A more powerful neighbor is trying to invade and change them. If we care about international law, we should be more willing to make these comparisons more often.
Also, watching today’s video, I realized that I’m being deeply hypocritical in the video. I was so excited to make this comparison that I left my own country out of the analysis. The United States invades countries more frequently than anybody else does. The vid should definitely have mentioned that. But I think the point still stands. One day the US might be able to be constrained by international law as well. If we’re going to get there, we have to be willing to try to look at all conflicts with a little more objectivity. Which is hard for hypocrites like us…
I’m no Donald Trump fan (to put it mildly) but occasionally, he’s absolutely right. He wants to get out of Syria. He said so back at the end of March. I have a nasty suspicion that his statement may be the reason we ended up bombing that poor country a few weeks ago. As I’ve documented fairly rigorously over the past couple years, almost everybody in “respectable” politics in the United States is angling for a wider war in Syria.
That’s why it’s so hard to find the basic information I’ve laid out in today’s video. The conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq are often talked about in broad terms. It’s conceded that the conflicts were mistakes, but we get bogged down in the details, and questions of the individual mis-steps and controversies. The bigger picture gets obscured. I’d argue that’s kind of the goal. Because if you back up a bit, and view the trajectory of these conflicts, you quickly realize that they are very similar. And, horrifyingly, this is exactly the trajectory we’ve embarked upon in Syria. Today’s video draws back the curtain.