It’s been a while since I’ve looked at US involvement in the Middle East in depth. I’ve been doing a deep dive into the history of Yemen for months now, but that was mostly pre-1983, when the US decided to make the Middle East our daily problem with the founding of Centcom. Over the past month or so I’ve dived deep, not just into the “Greater War For the Middle East” (as Andrew Bacevich calls it) but also into the unified combatant command structure that is solidifying US empire all over the world. My view on all of this is… somewhat grim. I hope the video isn’t too much of a downer.
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…
I feel like I’m weirdly a lot more optimistic about American power today than most of the US media is. Today I lay out why I think that may be. The US is reacting to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as some inexplicable horror, another step back towards history’s chaos, and another sign that the American world order is falling to pieces. As more of a cynic, and a student of foreign relations, my sense is that the US world order has been falling apart since at least 2003. What Russia has done in Ukraine, is give us a second chance. By conclusively setting himself up as a more destructive and dangerous actor than the US government, Putin has given the US world order a new lease on life.
What’s vital in this moment is that we seize that opportunity. Europe is now back on our side in ways it hasn’t been for two decades. What we should do now, is try to win over the rest of the world by improving our relations with old enemies that no longer matter. To it’s credit, the Biden administration is already trying to do this with Iran and Venezuela. Unfortunately, they are being blocked by their efforts to do so, and not just by Republicans. I think it’s a failure of understanding. US government and media don’t understand just how bad the situation was, and how valuable a window Russia has given us. Today’s video is my attempt to explain the situation.
I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a while. Heck, and one point, I thought I might make a multi-video series covering all the ways the Gulf Monarchies worked to destroy the Arab Spring. It’s a vital point that gets over-looked. Yes, as my “Everybody’s Lying About Islam” series documented at length, Saudi Arabia’s century of power and wealth has been terrible for world Islam. The Saudi Wahhabi project has been a sort of cultural genocide against what was a much more diverse body of Islamic practices half a century ago. That matters. But beyond the religious aspects there is the fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are proselytizing monarchists as well. They have extraordinary wealth and influence in Washington, DC, and for the past 10 years they have used it to crush democracy across their region. This is the real tragedy of declining democracy this century. The Arab Spring could have made 2011 a new 1776, or 1989. Instead Arab Democracy was strangled in the cradle by a set of absolute monarchies that simply would not exist without the United States.
Does the United States do any strategic thinking at all? During the Cold War the United States was focused on defeating the Soviet Union, and everything was secondary to that. Even the insult of the explicitly anti-American Iranian revolution was largely ignored in the name of fighting the Soviets. The US government colluded in arming Iran during the 1980s after all. But for the thirty years since the cold war it really hasn’t been about focus… it’s been about finding or creating the enemies necessary to keep the defense money flowing. We’ve been going everywhere and been acting as offensively as possible to keep the world dangerous.
We have clearly reached the limits of that approach. Biden’s supposed withdrawal from Afghanistan (I’ll believe it when I see it) could be an early recognition of this. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but when we’re on the border of an enemy that cares infinitely more about a piece of territory than we do, like Ukraine or Iraq or Taiwan, we can’t effortlessly exert our will anymore. If we continue to act as unwisely as we have in the past two decades, we seriously risk getting caught out in a much more serious way than the Iraq disaster. The most obvious way this could happen would be if we somehow blunder into a simultaneous war with Iran and China, in two different regions. With today’s video I examine that possibility, and come to the obvious conclusion that the best thing we can do for the security of Taiwan is get back into the Iran nuclear deal. Fewer enemies mean we might be able to more effectively compete in the rivalries we maintain.
I have been meaning to get today’s video out for quite a while now. I didn’t plan on it, but it’s coming out at a pretty useful time as well. After months of dithering, and posing for the benefit of hawks in the United States, the Biden administration has finally sat down to talks with the Iranian government. It’s not clear why they need to talk, the Iranian position is pretty clear… Iran will comply fully with the JCPOA if the US complies fully. But nonetheless, it is a heartening step that the negotiations have finally started. I am happy to be making this argument for the Iran Nuclear Deal at this time. This video is meant to persuade. I tried to make it less angry and more shareable than some of my other videos on the topic. If you think I succeeded, please share it widely.
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?
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 basically impossible to over-state how stupid the current US position in Syria is. What’s going on there is a proxy war between two clearly opposed sides. Obviously it would be preferable if Syria was still whole, and half a million people hadn’t died, but it is possible to envision a fairly stable frozen conflict, that would allow everybody to move on and rebuild. There being no justice in the world, this frozen conflict would also work out pretty well for the US. Worried about Iran? Turkey’s there to balance them. Worried about Turkey’s growing influence in the region? Russia and Iran are there to confront Turkey. Want to shield the Kurds from Turkey’s (alleged) genocidal plots? Assad, who the Kurds have been working with closely since 2011, would be happy to do it.
The United States is the only thing standing in the way of a more peaceful situation that works out better for the United States. Our insistence, with Israel, on being everybody’s enemy, all at once, keeps Syria in a permanently unbalanced state. Thanks to the Russians, the meat grinder stopped a number of years ago, but it could tip over into a mass death situation again at any moment. It almost did this past spring. My hope is that today’s video can help to illustrate how much better off we would be if we just left.