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.
As promised, I’m going to spend this week’s blog post weighing in on “When Turkey Destroyed It’s Christians“, an infuriating article written by two academics, Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, and published by the Wall Street Journal this past May…
In 1915, the Young Turk government that was losing World War I for the Ottoman Empire embarked on a program of genocide against its Armenian minority. Outside of Turkey you won’t find anyone who disputes that, and you certainly won’t find anyone to dispute that here. The Armenian Genocide happened, full stop. Bludgeoning the Turks with this fact until they admit it is a fair thing to do.
That’s not what this Wall Street Journal article does. It attempts something much more sweeping and sinister. With the US-Turkish relationship more fraught than it has been since at least the 1970s, we should be trying to understand Turkey better. Instead, the two authors offer us a highly prejudiced and incomplete essay damning Turkey in irresponsibly sweeping terms over its history with its Christian minority. The Wall Street Journal has given these arguments credibility they do not deserve by publishing them. The article, and the book it is based on, argues that across four decades and three completely different governments, the loss of territory on three continents, and the immolation of a 600 year old empire, the Turks engaged in a conscious multi-decade program of anti-Christian genocide that is directly comparable to the Final Solution cooked up by the Nazis. The authors actually say that in the closing paragraph of their article. By doing so they manage to cheapen the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and commit a pretty horrific slur against the Turkish people. To my mind it’s quite similar to saying that the pre-Nazi Weimar German government of the 1920s and 1930s and the post World War II West German government are just as guilty of Genocide as the Nazis are, implying that there is something naturally evil about the Turks. These authors seem to be motivated by exactly the same sorts of blind nationalist disrespect for history that Armenian Genocide deniers are. The lead “historian” on this is Benny Morris, an Israeli scholar who distinguished himself in his youth by pointing out that the foundation of Israel involved more ethnic cleansing of Arabs than is usually admitted. He has spent his career since writing about why ethnic cleansing to found the Israeli state was actually a good thing. He’s a figure associated with justifying the political projects of his own country, and not an expert on this era. Dror Ze-evi, the second author, does appear to be an Ottomanist, but he’s either not a good one, or he knows he’s being dishonest.
If you’re familiar with the history, you’re already aware of how deeply insulting it is to tar Ataturk and the Ottoman sultans with the crimes of the Young Turk Genocidaires, but let’s run through this a bit. It takes a lot for me to defend the late Ottoman Sultans, but the outright Nazi comparison does the trick. The fundamental historical point that the WSJ article never mentions is that across the 19th century, the Ottoman empire was losing territory. As they lost territory, their central lands in Anatolia filled up with ethnically cleansed Muslims from across Europe. If you walk through central Athens, you will find multiple former mosques or burnt out relics of them. Well over 100,000 Turks were kicked out of Greek territory after Greece’s independence in 1830. There are churches in Istanbul today, but there are no mosques in Athens. The Russians repeatedly invaded Ottoman territory, usually forced back more by pressure from the other European powers rather than Ottoman strength. Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian independence happened in stages of mixed sovereignty and self determination. As these territories became more self-governed, atrocities against Muslims, some of whom had been there for 600 years, became more frequent. To its eternal shame the Ottomans engaged in atrocities as well. Interestingly the WSJ article does not mention the Bulgarian massacres, which were some of the worst anti-Christian massacres carried out by the Ottoman government. This is because mentioning those atrocities would require acknowledging the other side of the story, decaying Ottoman control in Europe and the accompanying ethnic cleansing of Muslims. It’s kind of hard to write a hit piece alleging one-sided Turkish ethnic cleansing if you mention actions that were carried out by Muslim populations that no longer exist. The late Ottoman sultanate was a brutal, vicious, failure, losing miserably and committing great atrocities. But were they Nazis? No. Were they even as bad as the Russians, Belgians and Americans of the time? No. They just failed where the Russians, Belgians and Americans succeeded, so their atrocities are harder to wave away.
The Young Turk government that took power from the Sultan in 1908 initially included a lot of propaganda about a new understanding between Turks and minorities. Some of its leaders may even have believed that propaganda. Under the pressures of losing World War I, they carried out a genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Nothing to defend here. Though I would argue that the writers of the WSJ article ARE defending the Young Turks, by pretending that their horrific actions were part of some over-arching Turkish plot, not their own unique responsibility.
It’s the last bit of the WSJ article argument that is truly outrageous. After the Ottomans lost World War One, the victorious allies, chiefly Britain, offered a whole bunch of Turkish territory to Greece. This left out the inconvenient fact that the Turks still held that territory at the end of hostilities with the allies. The Greeks invaded, sweeping across Anatolia, carrying out all manner of atrocities against local Turks as they went. The Turks under Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, rallied and pushed them out, committing atrocities against local Greeks as they went. At the end of the war, after the invading Greeks had been pushed out, a population transfer was agreed. 1.5 million Christians were moved to Greece, and Half a million Muslims were moved to Turkey. This imbalance is explained by the fact that as Greece expanded throughout the 19th century, they had ethnically cleansed all Muslims as they went, while the Ottomans didn’t get started on systematically extirpating Christians until 1915. The Population transfer was a horrible thing, and not something that the international community would accept today. At the time however, it was seen as an appropriate solution. What’s important to remember here, is that unlike the situation with the Armenians, the Greek government was equally at fault for what happened to the Greeks of Anatolia, if not vastly more culpable than the Turkish government. The WSJ article doesn’t mention any of this detail at all. It simply slots the end of Greek presence in Anatolia into its fairy tale of Turkish evil.
History is important. Harvard, the WSJ, and these “scholars” may not think so, but I do. The Wall Street Journal’s brand may be fading in the Murdoch era, but it still matters. People reflexively believe things that are printed there. Because I lived in Turkey for 6 years, multiple people have reached out to me to talk about this article. I see it pop up on twitter all the time, especially in light of the recent non-existent anti-Kurdish genocide in Northern Syria. Turkish history is not a topic that many in the US have really dived into. If the WSJ says something about it, it will believed. Many Americans now believe that the Turks had a four decade, concerted, out of nowhere plot to murder all of its Christians. That’s not true. The fact that this article exists is an example of the “Plot against Turkey” I talk about in today’s video.
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.
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.
Man, Timing can be awkward sometimes. My programming choices tend to be pretty free from influence of outside events. If something important happens, I’ll react to it, usually with a live video, but other than the 2016 US election and Brexit vote, I rarely tune my content towards things that are happening. I decided to finally address the Mueller investigation with today’s video, simply because my thinking on it matured to the point that a video became possible. I’m talking about Mueller investigation this week, because I finally thought I had something worth saying about it…
What I didn’t expect when I wrote this a couple weeks back, was it coinciding so directly with the Putin-Trump summit. And I certainly didn’t expect Trump to put in the performance he put in yesterday. I think the reaction to Trump’s mealy-mouthed and sycophantic approach to Putin is a bit over-blown, but only a bit. It was pretty pitiful to watch, and if you’re more invested in myths of US virtue and power than I am, it must have been especially painful. The reactions, both from my friends, and from social media have been pretty intense. The folks who have always been convinced that Trump is a Russian tool are now adding to their ranks. It’s kind of an odd environment to be releasing a video skeptical of the Mueller investigation into, but hey, that’s what I’m doing! Can’t wait to see how it goes…
With today’s video I return to the topic of Europe for the first time in a while. The EU is something I take rather seriously. Those who remember how much I flipped out about Brexit know how seriously. This is surprising to many. What self respecting US conservative can be for the survival of the European Union? One who really doesn’t want to see US soldiers fighting in Europe again. There’s no question that the current EU, run from Brussels is an unaccountable, bureaucratic, overly socialist mess. But it’s a lot better than what came before it.
The EU wasn’t formally established until 1993, but it has its origins in the European Coal and Steel community, going back to 1951. I may not agree with the specific goals pursued, but the platform for unity and peace that the EU and its predecessor provided is undeniable. This has had positive security effects as well. People like to talk about NATO, but NATO is happy to welcome shaky dictatorships. It’s the EU that makes applicants jump through hoops and prove their democratic credentials. I laid all this out in a video a few years back…
I’M AN IDIOT EDIT: No Istanbul is not the Capital of Modern Turkey. Sorry. It’s Ankara.
I’m a little sick of hearing about how powerful Russia is. It’s become an obsession in the US. Russia has become the new boogieman, despite having very little in the way of real 21st century global power or accomplishments. Many of my friends are holding desperately to the idea that Putin gave us Donald Trump, when it was clearly the Democrat’s choice of Hillary Clinton as a nominee that did that. Russia’s “victory” in Syria is heralded everywhere, despite the fact that they’ve barely managed to keep one of their only allies together, in the face of a not particularly committed effort on the part of the United States to destroy the country. I’ve made videos about Russian weakness before, but I think there’s a need for more. That’s part of what I accomplish with today’s video.
Today I deal with the fantastical idea that Turkey and Erdogan might find enough common ground to threaten the west. This theory only requires avoiding about 500 years of history between the two countries. It’s just as dumb as imagining that Russia and China might be able to find real common ground. These countries are too threatened by each other to band together. I find analysis that claims otherwise infuriating.
There may be a fundamental mismatch between world-views here. Folks at major US news outlets seem to think that any diversion at all from the Washington, DC party line is a Cold War level threat. This strikes me as ridiculous. Turkey has committed to buying a couple billion dollars worth of air defense systems from Russia. This is pretty clearly intended to piss off Turkey’s NATO allies. But it’s not the end of the Alliance, and it’s not the end of the world. Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for a Nuclear plant in 2010 and they still haven’t broken ground yet, seven years later. These new systems are easier to deploy, but there is no guaranteeing that they will be deployed. And if they are, it’s hard to see how it could conceivably threaten US or European security. A real alliance would require Turkey to want a stronger Russia. They will never want that.
Oh Russia! As I’ve made clear, I don’t think much of the continued furor around that country’s role in the US election. But that barely scratches the surface of the silliness surrounding discussions of Russia’s geopolitical position. The US foreign policy establishment has been jawing for years about Putin’s “impending” invasion of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This has always been ridiculous. A year and a half ago I made a video pointing out 3 reasons why it would never happen. It has reached a pretty large audience.
Donald Trump’s election has prompted a new wave of Baltic paranoia, however. On the campaign trail, Trump spent a fair amount of time insulting our NATO allies. Some are afraid he won’t honor our commitments to the Baltics in the event of a Russian invasion. I think these fears are exaggerated. But what if they were true? If Russia had the all powerful military machine it is credited with then maybe the Baltics would be in trouble. It doesn’t. In fact, the 2017 Russian budget imposes a 25% cut on Defense spending. Even without NATO, I’m quite confident Russia wouldn’t invade Estonia. It’s just too dangerous for Putin. Washington, DC will continue pretending Russia is a real threat, rather than a skilled exploiter of situations in countries the US has already destroyed. For those of us outside the beltway however, I’ve put together another video laying out the dismal geopolitical situation facing Russia. I hope you enjoy it..