It’s always worth re-examining something we all just think of as normal. I would never call myself a journalist. I don’t do the hard work of cultivating sources and ferreting out things that are hidden from us. But what I hope the MFF is good at is re-interpreting things we all know, connecting the dots, and laying out why certain aspects of our common knowledge are troubling. That’s what today’s video attempts to do. We have come to see it as normal that actors all over the world seek to take advantage of US elections to get away with things. Why should they care what happens in this country? And what does it say about the true dimensions of US power that they do?
Over the course of Trump’s presidency, outraged politicians across the US system took many principled stands against Saudi Arabia. With a president who was so shamefully subservient to crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman, Congress, and every democratic politician running for president was free to condemn the country, and propose a number of concrete ways to punish and humiliate the Kingdom’s out of control leadership. My guess is that it is going to be shocking how quickly all of that evaporates.
But, as I lay out in today’s video, that’s not necessarily a reason for despair. An emotionally satisfying blow-up with Saudi Arabia is vastly less important than the end of the invasion of Yemen and the speedy restoration of the Iran Nuclear Deal. That ought to be our true measure of success in dealing with Saudi Arabia.
I wrote this video about a month ago, but then got cold feet. I’m glad I did, because the Vienna attack occurred the day I was going to upload it. That attack was initially sold as a serious, organized, multi-person act of terror. It’s now clear that it was committed by just another lone psycho. This video’s central message, that what we are seeing now is nothing compared to five years ago, and that Islamist terrorism has largely run its course, seems pretty clearly true to me.
One interesting aspect, that I left out of the video because it was already too long, is the difference between the US and French attitudes towards counter-terror. Even under Trump there’s a serious effort to move away from worrying about Islam. A Saudi military officer, likely affiliated with Al Qaeda, shot up a US military base last fall, killing 3 US soldiers! It’s been forgotten completely. The French government, on the other hand, is eager to make the actions of lone psychos the centerpiece of its domestic political agenda. What explains this difference?
Well, it’s quite cynical. The US military industrial complex, from defense contractors to the military to the media that promotes them, it’s all moving on to China. We don’t need to freak out about Islam to justify our pentagon budgets anymore. But France’s military budgets depend on fighting “Terrorism” in Africa. So they remain very big on demonizing Islam. Grim. But hard to deny.
It’s interesting how far my politics have evolved. If you had told me in 2014 that this channel would include a full-throated call for more stimulus spending, even after a year with a near 4 trillion dollar US budget deficit, I would have been appalled. I’m in surprisingly strong company. The inflation hawks and bond vigilantes on Wall Street have mostly retired in failure. The new generation is now just as eager for a big spending government as I am. What happened to all of us was… events. An under-appreciated aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency is the way that he sort of blew up the argument for fiscal conservatism. The Republicans let him do all the economic stimulus that they denied Obama, and the economy really did kick into higher gear. The threatened inflation never happened, and while people are a little less eager to buy our debt, the Federal Reserve seems to have stepped into the breach without consequences.
The only thing standing in the way of the emerging “magic money” era is the Republican Senate. And they’re only standing in the way until they can put a Republican back in power. Which is way I think we shouldn’t let them do that, as I lay out in today’s video on Georgia’s January 5th elections. As I briefly note in this video, however, I still suspect that those failed bond vigilantes and Republican Senators may actually be right. The British Empire fell because it ran out of people willing to give them money, and I think it’s likely that will be the case with us as well. We just don’t know the time scale. And as Keynes pointed out, “In the Long run, we’re all dead”. 2021 is not the year to try to solve the national debt.
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.
The Sudan-Israel deal is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Yes, today’s video spends a ton of time undermining it by adding context, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a surprising thing. Trump really has extended the realm of the possible, whether or not this particular deal is the malign flop I expect. There are a lot of people, like me, who find Trump’s various middle east deals outrageous and impracticable, but I don’t think there are many people in Israel or Palestine who think that the pre-Trump dynamic was leading anywhere useful either.
To me it’s obvious that Trump isn’t pushing things in particularly useful directions, but that doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t be pushed out of their current frame. As the region, and the US’s involvement with it moves forward, however, we need to have a better sense of the context in which we are operating, especially if we’re trying to break new ground. Context is what today’s video attempts to provide.
Syria makes me so sad. If you’ve been with me through the Trump years, you’ll remember that I’ve periodically celebrated Trump’s approach to Syria. The truth is I got played.
The fact that Trump hasn’t gone whole hog and launched Iraq 2003 2.0 in Syria is a good thing, but Obama accomplished that too. We were promised more. Over and over. Today’s video makes clear how little was delivered.
It’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed over the past four years. This video comments on the ways my view of things have changed directly, but the process of making it was also clarifying on shifts in my own attitude. It reminded me that two years ago, right after her upset victory, I wrote half a script about AOC I never produced. In introducing her, I wrote in a joke about my inability to pronounce her name. It’s a small thing, but I don’t find that “joke” funny anymore.
It feels like the period since late 2016 has just flown by, as a never-ending flood of chaos. But it has been four years. I have changed. We have changed. The country has changed. In addition to the arguments I make in this video, that may be one of the best reasons to support Biden. He could finally give us a moment to pause, collect our breath, and reckon with what we have done to ourselves.
It really is amazing how committed Washington, DC can be to utterly fantastical narratives. If Turkey experiences real consequences for turning on the S-400 missile system it has purchased from Russia, it will be because of the damage this choice has done to US defense contractors who feel left out. But that won’t be the story that US congresspeople use to explain the collapse of the 70 year old relationship with Turkey. No, they’ll blame it on Turkey’s choosing to side with Russia.
DC has been trying to sell this idea for years. Despite the fact that Turkey shot down a Russian jet in 2015. Despite the fact that Russia and Turkey are involved in the most serious cold war between great powers that Western Eurasia has seen since the 1980s. Today’s video lays out how Russia and Turkey are now facing off against each other in not one but three separate regions. Today’s video also explains the real reason Turkey could be about to fall out of NATO.
YouTube comments are great. A week or so back I issued a pretty clear condemnation of Azerbaijan’s actions over the past ten days. They have launched a military attack on the Azeri regions that Armenia has occupied for the past three decades. I still believe that Azerbaijan is the driving force behind the new hostilities and that they should knock it off. But the outraged comments from Azeri nationalists helped me see that my analysis was neglecting some really important aspects of the conflict.
With every video I learn a ton more about every topic I cover. Not just about the actual events that have occurred, but about which events and actions are most important to the people involved. As irritating as an occasionally abusive comment section can be, I’ve learned a ton. Today’s video seems geared to piss everybody off, both Turks for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and Armenians for pointing out the parallels that their 1990s behavior presents with the Ottomans in 1915. It should be another fun and educational comment section!