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.
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’s staggering how many Trump administration scandals we’ve forgotten completely. Who remembers Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior who was let go when the Democrats took the House, because even the Trumpers knew his behavior would be unacceptable under even an ounce of oversight? Who remembers Scott Pruitt, the EPA head who wasn’t just taking favors from lobbyists, but was actually living under their roof? The constant deluge of scandal has been destabilizing through sheer volume alone. Things that would be litigated for weeks or months under the Obama or Bush administrations fly by in a day or so, because something even worse comes up. We’ve all got our most hated Trump appointee, for me it’s probably Jeff Sessions, but as the election looms, I think it’s important to try to look at the big picture. That’s what I’ve tried to do with here to support this project through Patreon. Please do reach out to us through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or our e-mail newsletter.
This is a video I’ve wanted to make for a while. After looking at it intensely for at least three years now, I’ve got some very strong opinions on the history of the Arab World. I’ve been reluctant to lay them out however, because it’s impossible to talk about the Arab world in general without talking about Israel. It’s a topic that is guaranteed to alienate at least half my audience. As you can tell from today’s video, my views are capable of irritating all sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I have held off on addressing that conflict directly because of general chicken-heartedness, and a feeling that I haven’t read enough on the subject yet.
Well a week or so back Israel and the UAE took it out of my hands. The deal announced by Trump is tremendously significant, though not for the reasons that the parties or the deal-makers suspect. This really could be a turning point in Arab history more generally. Or maybe not. Anyway, I’m delighted to have been forced to get these ideas out there. Let me know what you think!
It’s frustrating when I upload a video and realize I’ve left something out. What today’s video needs is a brief description of the mechanism that makes me think Trump’s war with Iran is inevitable. It’s not like Trump will start a war with Iran. The actions that have already been taken by the Trump regime mean that there will be some sort of Iranian reprisal within the first months after his re-election. Despite his savage expansion of almost every war the US was already fighting, I do still hold the unfashionable belief that Trump knows a new war would be stupid. It doesn’t matter. The damage has already been done. Iran’s year delayed revenge for Soleimani will be too outsize to not respond to. Hundreds of dead US soldiers? A high profile assassination of a beloved US figure? Whatever. It will be something that no US president will be able to avoid responding to. And then we will be off to the races. I am convinced that the only chance for avoiding this horrific result is the election of Joe Biden.
It’s amazing to me how much of the Security/geopolitics conversations happens around stuff that will never matter. The Pentagon and their pet think tanks and congresspeople are pushing the “New Cold War” with China because they know that it will keep the money rolling in. But it really doesn’t make sense. All the defense related crap we are buying will be superseded or sunk within the first month or so of an actual shooting war with China. Nobody really knows what such a war would look like, but it’s obvious to me that most of the trillions we spend on weapons will be wasted.
What I have done this week, and with last week’s video, is try to talk about areas of competition that actually matter. Diplomacy, Business, and the degree to which the rest of the world is still willing to put up with US hegemony are vastly more important factors in the resolution of this competition than almost anything that will happen in the South China sea. It’s the management of these other competition spaces that will determine whether war with China happens in the 2030s, the 2130s, or not at all. The Big Tech companies are another one of those great benefits, like the peace dividend at the end of the cold war, that we in the United States may be in the process of wasting. We should maybe spend a billion or two thinking about these companies strategically, among the trillions we’ll spend on useless weapons platforms. Today’s video is a place to start.