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.
This is the longest produced video I’ve ever done, and I think I’m fairly proud of it? It’s the product of reading a few books and multiple lengthy reports on Ethiopia’s conflict, and following the coverage closely for over a year now. I think my coverage has also been aided by having multiple viral videos on the country on TikTok, and the responses I have gotten over there. I hope you like it!
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.
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!
Man, I was really hoping to make it to Egypt one last time before I started critiquing the Sisi regime. Oh well! This regime could have as much as a decade to go, so no pyramids for me for the foreseeable. I feel like Egypt’s dictatorship forced my hand a little bit, by threatening to invade Libya to back up one of the region’s most pointless strong men, Khalifa Haftar. It’s a shame. I do hear mixed things about Egypt under Sisi. Some claim the economy has turned around, though I don’t see much proof of it. Some claim that he brings stability, but it looks to me like the sort of stability the Shah of Iran provided in the 1970s.
If your regime is based savage repression, as Sisi’s very much is, it tends to lead to bad decisions. I believe that this threatened intervention in Libya is potentially one of those very bad decisions. Today’s video lays out why Libya is a conflict that Egypt should avoid getting more involved in.
Man, this video just gets more and more right with time. When I uploaded this one just over two months ago, it presented three reasons why Saudi Arabia should get the heck out of Yemen as soon as possible. Today I would add at least two more. First, the war is putting the safety and security of Saudi Arabia itself in more and more jeopardy by the day. Just a few weeks ago, the Yemenis pulled off history’s most devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure. This attack, and the indifference of world oil markets to it, both gravely undermine the Saudis. Over this past weekend, confused reports emerged that the Saudis may be losing large battles on or distressingly close to their own territory. Whether those reports are true or not, the fact that they can be believed should be terrifying to the Saudis.
There is an out from all of this. The Houthis are aware that their complete dominance of the battle space is actually a problem for them. If they push their advantage, and make real inroads in to Saudi territory, they could prompt a US response. They have proved their independence, and remain more interested in peace than the Saudis are. The Houthis have offered to cease attacks on Saudi territory, if the Saudis will agree to do the same. This is a real opportunity. So far, the Saudis have reacted by murdering a bunch of Yemeni families from the air. They should really start pursuing peace before it’s too late.
This video has turned out to be quite prescient. Closing in on two months ago, when it became clear that the UAE was withdrawing some troops from Yemen, I proposed three possible scenarios for what it would mean. All three are still worth considering, but it’s looking like the one I flagged as most likely is the one that’s happening. It’s a sort of Vietnam 1973 scenario. The Saudis have lost, but they won’t acknowledge it yet, and there is plenty of murder and destruction to come before it becomes obvious to everyone with a 1975 style “helicopters on rooftops” moment.
I didn’t anticipate how quickly things would fall apart, however, with Saudi and UAE proxies engaging in open warfare in the only major Yemeni city that their “coalition” has managed to take. I think the Vietnam parallel stands though. Since World War II we have been lucky enough to see very little inter-state war. Much of the suffering in the world has come in the context of civil wars. This Saudi invasion of its neighbor is only one of a handful of such examples since the 1940s. Vietnam is one of those examples, and the parallels will just get more and more obvious. As sad as this is, it is a bit heartening to see that the US failure in Vietnam wasn’t some unique failure of will, it’s just really fricking hard to invade a country in the modern context. The Saudis are doing even worse than we did, much more quickly.
The US invasion of Iraq also fits into the Vietnam structure pretty well, as I documented five years ago…
With today’s video I tie together the past month or so of production, and explain why it is that I’m so interested in North Africa. Arab democracy, human rights, human progress, all of that is lovely. But today I focus on a much more simple, dollars and cents issue: Every month the Atlantic economy is mired in war and destruction in North Africa, is a month where the Pacific Economy surpasses it. The disaster in Libya is contributing to economic stagnation in Europe and the Eastern United States. There are very self interested reasons to promote peace.
I really enjoy the way that this one connects the North Africa region together, and then connects it to the implications for the world as a whole. I don’t think enough media does that. Let me know what you think!
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.
I wish I could make this channel about Yemen all the time. But I can’t. It would just get too depressing. It’s important to hit this topic as often as I can though. This doesn’t just come from my opposition to Saudi Arabia’s government, and the way they destabilize the region. Yemen is truly in the midst of a catastrophe. One of my regrets from the early stages of my Yemen series is the way that I use the UN’s blanket “12,000 people killed” language. The UN stopped counting the dead in Yemen years ago. A recent report puts the figures at over 55,000 dead.
And those are just the figures for the people who were killed directly by fighting. Large scale starvation is now reckoned to have killed 85,000 children in Yemen as well. The bodycount is mounting and the violence is getting worse. For nothing. For less than nothing. The Iran excuse the Trump administration keeps reaching for is a fantasy. It’s important for folks to know about this, because it’s not a difficult problem. The US could stop the war almost immediately, and it would lose nothing by doing so. Information is the key to the end of the tragedy in Yemen. That’s why I’ll keep making vids like today’s video, and why I’m quite proud of my series on the topic.