Some produced videos take a long time to germinate, this one did not. This script crystallizes a concern I’ve been struggling to express for a couple months now. Sure, the United States has thrown a lot of money at the Ukraine problem, but do we have a strategy? Do we have one at all? I don’t doubt that there are capable people in the Biden administration who could execute such a strategy. In fact, they proposed one, not formally, but with their initial actions, that looks a lot like what today’s video demands. Unfortunately, they were too easily dissuaded from it. In the coming months we’ll begin to hear more about how the world’s options are hyper-inflation and starvation for the poor or some kind of Ukrainian surrender to Russia. But we have, and had more choices than that. As today’s video points out, all this horror could be a great opportunity… but I’m afraid we’re letting it pass us by.
Ray Dalio’s book on the changing World Order has been universally praised since its publication. I fear that may be because nobody has read it.
So far it seems like my “drama” videos have been more successful when they go after folks who are native to the app rather than establishment figures. Ray Dalio happens to be both. He’s one of the most successful Hedge fund investors of all time, and he racks up tens of millions of YouTube views. Here’s hoping this video is successful. Reading his book was a bit of a chore.
This video is another attempt to shake up the style a little bit. It’s been a while since I’ve done an all visual video, and this one almost qualifies. I’ve noticed that a lot of the successful geopolitics videos on YouTube tend to be lighter on the speaking in person, and heavier on the storyblocks and animated maps. Storyblocks is a stock video website I’ve been subscribed to for about six months now. It’s a cheap service, and you get what you pay for, but it’s a fun way to build a video. The selection is limited enough that after going through the library, I am beginning to see the same clips over and over in the work of my competitors. I think I have a few more rudimentary animation skills than a lot of the other geopolitics YouTubers, and I think I mixed animated graphs well with the storyblocks clips. Let me know what you think!
You may notice that today’s video looks a little different. I don’t know why it took this long for me to do this, but this weekend I finally signed up with Storyblocks, a company that provides stock footage. In recent years I’ve become more and more concerned with keeping my videos within the letter of copyright law. I didn’t realize until this afternoon how limiting that was. Back when I started out I just grabbed whatever from wherever, with the certain knowledge that nobody would ever come after an obscure channel in Turkey. But in 2017 I started being a lot more careful. I’m very grateful for what I’ve learned through that process and the skills I’ve built…
But man today was fun! With Storyblocks it feels like 2014 again. They’ve got a clip for most anything I want to talk about. I was aware of this flexibility as I finalized the script, and I think it allowed me to put something together that’s a little freer, and maybe even a little bit funny. Anyway, today is the most fun I’ve had editing in ages, and it’s the first of the new “long form” videos that I’m actually proud of. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…
This one was a lot of fun to make. Early on in this channel’s history I played around with scripted skits a bit more, and it was fun to get back into it. I’ve long been incredulous about the way that China-US relations are covered. US media seems utterly incapable of looking at things in their proper context. It seems obvious to me that China is heading in the wrong direction, and US media loves to document that. Where most US news sources fall short, however, is in explaining why China has turned a bit nuts. There’s a very involved history of US antagonism that led us to where we are, and China’s actions, while horrific, aren’t really an effective counter to anything we have been doing. I don’t want to excuse China’s behavior, but I don’t think we should obscure the US’s part in it.
I’ve made videos covering this material before, but I thought it might be fun to do it what I hope is a more breezy and amusing scripted format. What if we re-ran the past ten years of US China relations, but with China as the more powerful party rather than the United States? Today’s video is a thought experiment, and an experimental video as well. Let me know what you think!
It’s amazing how little investment the US has in the priorities of our allies. It’s well established that our foreign policy establishment is utterly incapable of seeing anything from the perspective of any of our “adversaries”. This would be a tremendous problem if the United States were actually in anything like a real competition with anybody. The dumbest actor in a contest rarely wins. But it’s not a contest. At this point, we’re so much more powerful than any of our opponents that it just doesn’t matter (leaving aside moral questions). What we should be doing, in this waning, but still present historical moment, is building up our position with allies, and working to stretch this sweet spot out as long as possible. We’re doing the exact opposite of that, of course.
A system that wants to stand the test of time needs to be aware of, and at least not obstruct, the wishes of smaller members of that system. As today’s video illustrates, we’re not doing that. Our oldest and strongest allies in Europe have opted to kick off the “New Cold War” by committing to an investment agreement… with China. This should be a wake up call. I doubt it will be.
One of the best things about doing commentary on YouTube is the feedback. Tuesday’s video is the second installment of my series on Algeria. It covers a lot of the same territory as my first video on Algeria, which was mostly just an appreciation of the country’s amazing history. But by posting that first video, I got a ton of comments that helped to guide some reading on my part, that helped me form more confirmed opinions on the country and its history. Tuesday’s video has gotten some very flattering appreciation. A handful of Algerian commentators have pointed out that my coverage is worlds better than any other English language source. This is less a celebration of my work than an indication of how bad US coverage of the country is more generally. I read two books, one of which I don’t find particularly trustworthy, and read about 1,000 YouTube comments, half of which were one sentence critiques of my figures and my neglect of the Berber population. With just that, I was able to do a better job talking about the country than almost any English language journalist. I’m kind of proud of that, but it’s also pretty sad.
All that said, while I’ve gotten a few very positive comments on this video, I’ve gotten many more that are pretty negative. Now that I’m diving deeper into the politics of the country, and making opinions, I’ve triggered a negative reaction. But I take heart from the fact that most of what people are complaining about is my read on the politics of the moment, and what people think of the current president. Nobody is complaining about my take on the history leading up to this year anymore. And with my next video on Algeria, probably a year or so from now, I’ll be able to incorporate criticisms of others. Iterative analysis. I like it.
With today’s video I try something new. Most of my video scripts come to me more fully formed, in a rush of inspiration. With this “Avoiding the British Empire” series, I’m trying something more ambitious. The first 9 episodes of the video series are meant to work with each other, building the case, and helping viewers arrive at a picture of the world that grows with each installment. The series is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure this has been entirely successful. I tend to focus on making discrete points and individually successful videos. My writing process is like that as well. This series is the first I can think of, where multiple videos started out as “Oh, I need to do this in this video”, rather than as a loose collection of thematically related issues. Many of the videos in the series predated the over-arching series structure. Today’s video did not. What do you think?
There are some standard stories about the fall of the British Empire, like imperial overstretch, and the rise of nationalism world-wide. But they are rarely linked to what I see as the real cause of the Empire’s fall: incessant war mongering. As we close out this epic week of content on the British empire, World War One will take center stage. World War One has a much more central part in British mythology than it does in the US. That may be the reason why people are reluctant to draw the connection between that “victory” and the end of the Empire as closely as I do.
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.